Guigemar

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"Guigemar" is a Breton lai, a type of narrative poem, written by Marie de France during the 12th century. The poem belongs to the collection known as The Lais of Marie de France. Like the other lais in the collection, Guigemar is written in the Anglo-Norman language, a dialect of Old French, in rhyming octosyllabic couplets.

"Guigemar" is one of the works in which the author explicitly gives her name as "Marie." In the prologue of this lai, she proclaims two goals for her work: to give rightful praise to people who have earned it, despite what envious rivals may have said; and to present the stories behind certain songs that were well-known at the time. It has been suggested that the prologue to "Guigemar" predates the overall prologue to the Lais in the Harley 978 manuscript, the only manuscript that records all twelve of Marie's known lais.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Guigemar, son of a loyal vassal to the King of Brittany, is a courageous and wise knight, who despite his many qualities, has been unable to feel romantic love. One day, on a hunting expedition, he mortally wounds a white doe, but he is injured as well. Before dying, the deer speaks to him, leaving a curse that his wound can only be healed by a woman who will suffer for love of him, and he will suffer as much for her.

Guigemar wanders through the forest until he finds a river and a lavishly decorated boat with no crew. He boards it and lies down in pain. When he gets back up, he realises that the boat has left port and that he is unable to control where it takes him.

The boat takes him to a land where the king has imprisoned his wife out of jealousy. The queen is permitted to see only two other people: a servant who has become her confidante, and an elderly priest. The only part of her prison that is not walled off is a garden, surrounded by the sea. The boat carrying Guigemar docks near the garden. The queen and her servant tend to the knight's wound and shelter him within their gilded cage. Guigemar and the queen fall in love almost immediately, but they are each uncertain if their feelings are mutual. The knight confides his feelings to the servant, who arranges a secret meeting with the queen. Once the queen is convinced of the sincerity of Guigemar's motives, they consummate their love. Their year and a half of bliss is ended when the king's chamberlain discovers them together. The king forces Guigemar to return to his own country. As signs of their fidelity to one another, the queen ties a knot in his shirt that only she can untie without tearing or cutting, and he gives her a belt tied with a knot that only he can untie (possible chastity belt?).

Guigemar is hailed as a hero in his own country, but he can only think of his distant love. Meanwhile, the king imprisons the queen within a marble tower. After two years of captivity, she has become very depressed out of her longing for Guigemar. She manages to escape the tower and considers drowning herself in the nearby sea. She then spots the same mysterious ship that had carried Guigemar long ago, and she decides to board it. The ship brings her to Brittany, where she is taken captive by the Lord Mériaduc. He falls madly in love with her and tries to rape her, but the chastity belt prevents his attempt.

Later on, Lord Mériaduc holds a jousting tournament, which Guigemar attends. Knowing that Guigemar wears a shirt with a knot that only his true love can untie, and that the Queen wears a chastity belt that only her true love can untie, Lord Mériaduc summons the Queen to meet Guigemar, suspecting the two are connected. Guigemar does not recognize the queen, so as to test her identity, he allows her to try to unravel the knotted shirt that she had given him years ago. Although she succeeds, Guigemar still refuses to accept her identity until she reveals the chastity belt. She then tells him of her sorrowful journey. Mériaduc attempts to keep the queen under his control, but is thwarted and eventually killed by Guigemar.

Allusions[edit]

The mural that decorates the queen's room shows Venus, the goddess of love, throwing Ovid's Remedia Amoris into a fire.[2] This work by the Roman poet Ovid counsels readers how to avoid being swept away by love.

Influence[edit]

The chivalric romance Generides shows influence of this work, and indeed the scenes between the lovers appear to show deliberate imitiation.[3]


"The Life of Luke Sapa" is loosely based on the story

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Laurence Harf-Lancner, notes to "Les Lais de Marie de France", p. 27, Livre de Poche 1990. ISBN 2-253-05271-X
  2. ^ Laurence Harf-Lancner, notes to "Les Lais de Marie de France", p. 39, Livre de Poche 1990. ISBN 2-253-05271-X
  3. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p234 New York Burt Franklin,1963

See also[edit]

External links[edit]