In Marie de France’s lai “Yonec,” a distressed maiden is locked in a tower in the woods by her jealous husband, awaiting her heroic rescue executed by a knight in shining armor. Though the arrival of her knight is timely and subtle, their passion as lovers quickly begets tragedy when the jealous husband gleans the happenings. Though this lai employs many elements of typical courtly love, like the beauty of chastity and unrequited love, and the triumph of valor over evil, I was sometimes perplexed by the role of religion in the text. It is obviously appropriate for the maiden in this story to prioritize religion, and Muldumarec’s agreement is also expected, though his defense of his religion and the lengths he goes to demonstrate it seem perhaps unwarranted. When, “She told him she would make him her lover/ If he believed in God above” it seems likely that a simple assertion of his faith, accompanied by a demonstration of his acceptance of her chastity would have been a sufficient response (Marie de France 5). Instead, Muldumarec devises an elaborate plan to receive communion as substantial proof. When reading this section for the first time, I honestly expected a revelation that Muldumarec was incapable of being truly faithful, perhaps in part due to his magical powers. However, I was quickly disproven when his goals were successfully realized. My resulting interpretation does contain some confusion about the necessity of his actions in proving his faith, though it is possible it is simply a difference of cultural norms that have lost their relevance.
I too found the role of religion in this lai interesting, though I was more confounded by the connection between ‘magic’ and religion in particular. Muldumarec clearly holds some supernatural power, as he is able to shape shift or morph from a hawk into a knight, and even into his lover in order to prove his faith to her. Yet he also holds a strong religious conviction, as you have already described. I wonder how common it was in Medieval literature to link these two concepts together, or if de France is doing something unique here. I suppose I am interested in the role given to Muldumarec – is he of divine nature? The emphasis and detail of his death, especially the blood spilling out of him, seems to give him more human quality than anything else. All of these different facets make this story complex, and I suppose as my knowledge of Medieval literature and courtly texts grows, my confusion will lessen.
The religious aspect of this piece also caught my attention. It highlights that it was one of the highest priorities in medieval life. The maiden, though she was being unfaithful to her husband, remained faithful to her religion. By proving to the maiden that he believed in God, Muldumarec was allowed to be with her since religion was the most important factor at that time. Though, I find it strange why they felt their behavior was acceptable if they were so religious? Did their actions not violate their religious beliefs? I look forward to hearing what the rest of the class says!
I also found the religious aspect questionable as she offers up prayers for courtley love as she is in a marriage, though unhappy she proves to be disloyal and adulterous in light of her unhappiness. Muldumarec is also questionable in his religious acceptance as he seems to be some sort of mystical creature created just for the wife. Does his acceptance of the Corpus Christi actually prove anything since he is magical? And further, why does he die if is some magical creature?