Yonec by Marie de France is an interesting lai because it offers an interesting perspective of marriage and knight hood. During this time female chastity is a highly emphasized custom and it was socially unacceptable for a maid to be unchaste or to take council with other men outside of the marriage. The maiden in this lai is kept locked away for the King’s personal satisfaction. This behavior may not have been the custom but it was accepted because wives were seen as the property of their husband. After marriage the husband can do whatever he pleases with little to no consequences while the wife is expected to stay chaste, honest, loyal, and obedience to her husband.
Marie de France presents a disloyal, unchaste wife in Yonec and sets her up as the victim by being locked away during her entire marriage. Although the wife has good reason for her disloyalty to her husband this is unacceptable behavior for a wife and deserves punishments according to the customs of this time. Rather than emphasize the wife’s villainy, the speaker instead labels the husband “evil” and “felon” for seeking revenge on the wife’s lover. The sister is also labeled deceitful and betraying as she reveals the details of the lovers to the husband. The speaker sets the adulterous lovers up as innocent victims while the husband and sisters are illustrated as evil villains, which is rarely seen during this time.
Another interesting point is how the knight is dishonest and deceitful but still upheld and honored by those in his kingdom as well as the wife. The characters in the play are illustrated in ways that contradict the customs of the time period and I find that interesting.