The Poem Lais of Marie De France and The Film The Lion in Winter and The Portrayal of Social Acceptance of The Adultery

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Words: 1048 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019

Words: 1048|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Jan 4, 2019

Social norms from the European Middle Ages are incredibly different when juxtaposed with those of modern times. However, when looking at social norms, there are many similarities, including the public perception of adultery. The act of cheating one one’s husband/wife has always been seen as an egregious act, yet both the Lais of Marie de Franceand The Lion in Winteraccept adultery as an inherent act, but for different reasons. In the Lais, adultery is allowed when the original relationship is hostile and can be replaced by a “correct love affair”, while in the film The Lion in Winter, adultery is permissible when the relationship is purely for political reasons. In this essay, the term “correct love” will be defined as a relationship that exists purely on love and no ulterior motives.

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In The Lion in Winter, King Henry remains unpunished for his sexual relations with Alais, despite being married to Queen Eleanor. In fact, the opening scene is a conversation between Henry and Alais, who is worried about her arranged marriage to one of Henry’s sons. When Eleanor asks him if he ever loved her, he replies negatively and reveals later in the movie that he only married Eleanor for her dowry, which included the strategic land of the Aquitaine. After Henry’s marriage, he takes another lover with whom his feelings are of true love. However, this affair ends tragically as the woman meets her death. After her death, he meets Alais, who was promised to marry his son Richard, who then falls for Henry and their affair begins. Adultery is not seen as a sinful act in the movie. His position as King of England grants him immunity as nobody dares to threaten his power. He constantly exerts his power upon the rest of the characters wether it be through wit, vocal intimidation, or combat. This allows him to pursue other romantic affairs and remain unpunished and his actions remain uncontested. While it is not quite the perfect ending, Henry does not get severely reprimanded for his actions either.The movie shows how adultery is accepted and never criticized due to the political nature of King Henry’s relationship with Eleanor and his political stature.

Similarly, in the short stories written by Marie de France in the Middle Ages, many royal figures remain unpunished after taking another lover due to the horrible conditions they were originally exposed to. In “Yonec” a knight appears in the tower of a castle in which lies a beautiful queen, trapped by her selfish king. When the queen sees the knight, who appears as a raven flying through the window, she replies by “saying that she would make him her lover, provided he believed in God, which would make their love possible” (Marie de France, 88). He quickly agrees and they begin their secret affair. Their relation is soon revealed to the king, yet the story still ends happily for the queen. The knight and the queen’s son, Yonec, beheads the king, who previously had killed the knight. The message is clear: correct love supersedesan apathetic relationship. A person can afford to commit adultery if their original relationship is not “correct love” as stated in the Rules of Courtly Love. Similarly in “Milun”, the love affair is between Milun and his Lady. While, unmarried, however, she becomes pregnant and gives the child to a trusted woman. Milun leaves to find fame as mercenary and returns to find his wife given to a nobleman. They send messages via a swan, yet still have changes to sneak out and meet. It is implied that they make love due to their preexisting feelings and actions towards each other. When the child grows older, Milun tells him his story, and the young knight and his father agree on a plot to kill the nobleman. But when they arrive at the nobleman’s city, they find he had already died of natural causes (Marie de France, 97-104). Again in this lay, the act of adultery is justified by true love. It is clear that the Lady did not agree to love the nobleman and had true feelings for Milun. Despite maintaining both relationships, she is rewarded with the nobleman’s death and the family’s reunion. Each lay has a similar plot. The Lady is trapped in some sort of castle or tower, lonely, unhappy, and seeking a man worthy of her love. A knight comes to rescue her and they begin having an affair. At the conclusion of each, the original lord or king is killed and the Lady is able to live happily. This is in stark contrast to the affair in The Lion in Winter. In the film, Henry is allowed to continue his illicit affairs with his two lovers because his relationship with Eleanor is purely political. Nobody has the courage to stand up to a king and state his wrongdoings, so Henry is able to carry on his sexual relationships. In the Lais, however, it is a correct that permits the act of adultery. Both the ladies in “Yonec” and “Milun” were trapped in towers as legal possessions of selfish lords. Their respective knights were able to save them from their hostile situations and give them the love they deserve. This relationship was considered a correct love, since there were no other factors that determined its nature. While adultery is accepted as a permissible act in all three stories, it is done so for different reasons.

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Both the Lais of Marie de France and the Lion in Winter, set in England/France in the Middle Ages, depict adultery as a permissible and acceptable act. However, their justifications differ greatly. In the Lais, cheating is allowed when the original relationship was hostile and apathetic. Both the Ladies of “Yonec” and “Milun” did not find love in their marriages with selfish kings/lords, but eventually found correct love with their knights in shining armor. On the other hand, the Lion in Winter shows the power of political standing as nobody dared to question his actions. Also, his relationship with Eleanor was purely political so he was not breaking any love affair by his adulterous acts. Despite the similar public perception on cheating in the context of the two pieces, adultery is portrayed as acceptable in both.

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The Poem Lais of Marie De France and the Film the Lion in Winter and the Portrayal of Social Acceptance of the Adultery. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
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