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July 25, 2014

Guigemar- The Lais of Marie de France- Summary

Guigemar- The Lais of Marie de France- Summary

The King's baron, Oridial, was a brave and honorable knight. He and his wife had two children; a son named Guigemar and a daughter named Noguent. Guigemar was very handsome, and he was greatly loved by his parents. When Guigemar was old enough, Oridial sent him to serve another king. Guigemar "was wise, brave and loved by everyone" (43). The time came that Guigemar wanted to leave the King and go in search of renown. The king gave him whatever armor that he wanted. There was no other knight who could match his skill. Even though Guigemar was a very handsome man, he had no interest in the opposite sex.

When Guigemar had achieved a lot of success as a knight, he returned home to his family. He had only been home for about a month when he decided that he wanted to go on a hunt. He summoned men to accompany him, and they went out hunting first thing the next morning.

The other knights went off after a stag, but Guigemar stayed back. In a bush, Guigemar saw a white hind and her fawn. The hind had the antlers of a stag. Guigemar drew his bow and fired an arrow into the hind's forehead. The hind fell to the ground, but the arrow bounced off of the hind and hit Guigemar in the thigh. The arrow went so deep that it went into the horse's flesh. The hind began to speak to Guigemar saying: "Alas! I am mortally wounded. Vassal, you who have wounded, let this be your fate. May you never find a cure, nor may any herb, root, doctor or potion ever heal the would you have in your thigh until you are cured by a woman who will suffer for your love more pain and anguish than any other woman has ever known, and you will suffer likewise for her, so much so that all those who are in love, who have known love or are yet to experience it, will marvel at it" (44).

Guigemar sent his squire to bring his friends back to where he was. When the squire had gone, Guigemar tied his shirt around his wound and mounted his horse. He rode away quickly, because he did not want his friends to see him like that. He was riding along when he saw a ship about ready to set sail from a normally deserted harbor. The ship was "caulked inside and out in such a way that it was impossible to detect any joints. There was no peg or deck-rail which was not made of ebony. No gold on earth was worth more and the sail was made entirely of silk" (45). The ship being in that port upset him, because he had never seen any ships there before. He rode down to the ship and went aboard. He didn't find anyone onboard. He went to leave the ship, but found the ship had already left port.

The ship reached land by nightfall. The ruler of this place was very old, and he had a very beautiful, noble, wise, and young wife. He was very jealous of her and did not want any other man to see her; so he had her guarded at all times. There was only one point of entry into her enclosure, which was always guarded. On the other side of the enclosure was the sea; so no one could enter there. On the walls of her chamber there were paintings of Venus. One in particular depicted Venus "casting into a blazing fire the book in which Ovid teaches the art of controlling love and as excommunicating all those who read this book or adopted its teachings" (46).

One day when the lady was out looking for some recreation with her maiden when she saw the ship sailing into port. They could not see anyone steering the ship. The lady wanted to flee, but the maiden, who was bolder than her friend, reassured the lady and they went down to where the ship was. The only person they found on board was the sleeping knight. At first the women thought he was dead, because he was so pail, but the lady put her hand on his chest and found it warm, and she could feel him breathing. The knight awoke suddenly. The lady asked him how it was that he came there and he told her the whole story. He asked the lady for her help, and she agreed.

The women took him back to the lady's chamber and laid him on the bed. The maiden tended to his wounds, and when her dinner came she set aside enough for him to eat. Guigemar finally knew what it was like to love someone, which troubled him. He no longer felt any pain, but he still sighed in anguish. The lady was stunned by unexplained feelings of love. The lady could not sleep that night; she lay there awake, thinking about Guigemar. The maiden could see that the lady was in love with Guigemar.

The next morning, the lady went into the chapel, and the maiden went to see Guigemar. He asked the maiden where the lady had gone. The maiden told him not to conceal his love from the lady for too long, for she loves you also. After the lady had heard mass she went to see the knight. Guigemar was afraid to tell her how he felt, because he didn't want her to get mad and send him away. He finally came to the conclusion that he either had to tell her how he felt or suffer in misery. He asked her for her love, and after much debate she granted his request. Then they laid together kissing and embracing.

Guigemar remained with her for about a year and a half undiscovered. One day, the lady announced that she felt that they would soon be discovered. She made him promise that if he managed to escape with his life that he would not be with any other woman. He promised, and she told him to give her his shirt and she tied a knot on the tailpiece. She told him that he would be free to love any woman who could untie the knot without the help of scissors or a knife. The lady would also make a similar pledge; she would fasten a belt around her that would close tightly around her loins. He told her that she could love any man that could take it off without tearing or cutting it.

They were discovered by a chamberlain that had been sent by the lady's husband. The lady's husband had her door broken down and Guigemar readied himself for a fight. Her husband asked Guigemar how he had gotten in there, and Guigemar told him. Her husband did not believe him; so he said that if they went to down to the harbor and the ship was there that he would let Guigemar board the ship and sail away. They went down to the harbor and the ship was there, and true to his word he let Guigemar leave. The ship took him back to his own country.

He was always sad and his countrymen wanted him to take a wife, but he refused to marry anyone who could not untie his shirt tail. This spread throughout the country and many women tried to untie it, but were unsuccessful.

After Guigemar left, the lady's husband had her locked away in a tower. She spent over two years in that dark tower, miserable. One day she went to her door and she found it unlocked. She seized the chance and escaped from the tower. She went down to the harbor and saw that the ship was there. She boarded the ship and the ship set sail, coming to port in Brittany, near a castle. The lord of that castle was named Meriaduc. The lord had seen the ship come into port from his window. He went down to the ship and retrieved the lady; he fell instantly in love with her.

He knew from the moment that he saw her that she was noble; and had her dressed properly. No matter what he did she was always sad. He told her repeatedly that he was in love with her, but she did not seem to care. She showed him her belt and told him that she could only love the man who could take it off of her. After she told him this, he told her about a knight who refused to marry any woman who could not untie his shirt tail. He then told her that he thought she was the one who had tied his knot. The lady fainted after hearing this. The lord grabbed her and tried to untie her belt; he was unsuccessful. He had all the knights in the land come and try to untie it, all were unsuccessful.

After a while Meriaduc arranged for a tournament to take place. He was certain that Guigemar would come to the tournament, which he did. Guigemar was invited to stay at the lord's castle. When Guigemar had arrived, Meriaduc summoned the lady. The lady came in and when she heard Guigemar's name, she became light-headed. Guigemar looked at her, but he did not believe that it was really her; his reasoning was that all women look alike. These two sat down together. Meriaduc was very unhappy at the sight of them together. He joking called out to the lady that she should try and untie Guigemar's shirt. Guigemar had his chamberlain fetch the shirt, and it was laid in front of the lady. She looked at it, uncertain of whether she should try and untie it. Meriaduc saw her hesitation and bid her to try and untie it. She untied it with ease. Guigemar still didn't believe that it was his lady; so he bid her to let him see the belt. He found the belt, and asked her how she managed to get to Brittany. She told him the whole story. Guigemar requested that Meriaduc let him take the lady with him, and in return Guigemar would become his vassal for about two years with about a hundred of his knights. Meriaduc refused, saying he found her so he was going to keep her.

Guigemar left the castle and went to join Meriaduc's enemy. The next day Guigemar, along with his followers, stormed Meriaduc's castle. It took them a long time to capture the castle, but in the end Guigemar killed Meriaduc. Guigemar took the lady and went away from castle.


The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Glyn S. Burgess. New York: Penguin, 1999.