When reading transcriptions of medieval poetry, it’s easy to forget that they were often heard performed not only in verse, but also in song with musical accompaniment. One wonders which familiar melodies drove the meters of some of Marie de France’s lays or the Romances of Chrétien de Troyes. Marie de Champagne had Chrétien collect, collate, preserve, and embellish the Arthurian “chansons.” We cannot say for sure what prompted this commission. Were the stories naturally becoming popular again? Did Marie de Champagne have issue with the older versions of the tales? Was there need of translation from Latin and local languages? Was the arts culture going through – as ours is now – a reboot and remake period?

The subject of most of these tales was courtly love – they were written not only with the court woman in mind, but possibly even for the court woman. Was this a medieval form of real marriage counseling? What advice, suggestions, warnings were meant for the men to hear? What was meant for the women to hear? Was there an attempt to dispel or possibly even confirm relationship stereotypes? To what extent was the need or want for gender discussion part of this literary movement – or are we just assuming there was a deliberate social agenda at all? Was the court leading or directing the literary culture of its day, trying to keep up with it, or both? Was there an underlying social agenda behind the resurgence and popularizing of these tales? Was this a sort of a medieval MeToo movement or just entertainment?


(wish I could claim credit for this, but alas, I cannot. Go internet!)

So the next time I read Guigemar, or, let’s be honest – just about anything from the Lays of Marie de France [(c.1160-1215) – not to be confused with Marie de Champagne (1145-1198)] concerning a cloistered woman or a man and woman trying to work things out in their relationship I’ll wonder if there was a movement happening in England (where Marie de France was writing – Henry II’s court) and France (where Chrétien was writing) that is anything like what we are seeing today.


My son Morgan was flying a little Breton flag around the house recently