Laustic: A Plethoric Cautionary Tale


Laustic:  A Plethoric Cautionary Tale

A Structuralism Approach

There are symbols that language gives reference to that can serve to give a reader a multitude of meanings; meanings that transcend the confines and even context of the language at hand. There are beacons of knowledge that stitch humans together initiated by language, and through the use of a structuralistic lens as provided by Ferdinand de Saussure one can isolate those instances in language where ulterior meanings can be isolated and examined for what they actually are. In Marie De France’s “Laustic,” there are a host of meanings that can be derived from the language that the use of structuralism provides a scholar.

The whole of “Laustic” is a critique, so to speak, of the culture and particular themes that are associated with the characters and their social constraints and freedoms. The build of the characters has victorian-esque or chivalry oriented sociality. Marie constructs the piece in a manner that gives the reader particular ideas that are initiated through the language; she “tells” the reader that this is a story of a higher class of individuals, who are respected, who are moral. “Near St. Malo there was a town (Somewhere thereabouts) of great renown. Two knights lived there, no lowly vassals, in houses that were built like castles. These barons were so good, their fame Gave their village goodness's own name,” Marie constructs images that propels a readers mind into developing the idea of the values these people who are of subject, these great knights, must hold.

The language Marie De France uses in “Laustic,” petitions its reader to derive particular meaning by which they must operate under to grasp the concepts laden within the piece. Perhaps the most central symbol that is used to inherently convey meaning is the Nightingale that has an over-barrenly influence in the plot of “Laustic.” The importance of the Nightingale is illustrated from the very beginning of the piece. Marie begins with translating precisely what the Nightingale is in a host of languages. This in turn provides the reader with a foundation based on the profundity of the symbol that the reader does not learn its complete usage until they have ingested the rest of the language further on. A nightingale is a bird that sings in the night, and because in “Laustic” there is an emotional affair between the lady and the night.  Again, arguably the most integral symbol in this piece is the nightingale. It seems that the nightinggale symbolizes the beautiful but tiring secret relationship of the lovers.When the lady is asked by her husband what keeps her leaving their bed nightly, she responds with the notion that she loves to hear this nightingale sing at night because she likes it despite how tired it leaves her. So, the husband, whos suspicions are unclear captures the nightingale and presents it to her one morning so she will not be “awaken“ again. Because the lady knows that if the nightingale is captured she will no longer have a valid excuse to randomly leave to meet her secret lover, she is upset and demands her husband to give her the bird; this is when the symbolism transforms. The husband, in anger snaps the birds neck and slings it onto the lady’s chest causing blood to splatter across her gown. The nightinggale has become a representation of the lady herself; it being broken apart by causing a grievence, is akin to what could potentially be done to her if her husband becomes aware of her seeing the other knight.

The lovers meet nightly at their windows to simply talk and gaze longingly at one another. The window is a powerful symbol in literature; it symbolizes the possibilities outside of ones own home or realm of confinement. The lovers are using their windows as portals into each others different worlds, and trying their best to satisfy themselves in the short split from their reality to experience what they want to be solidified but cannot.,“For a long time they loved each other, until one summer the copses and medows were green and the gardens in full bloom.“ She is writing in relation to the emotionally-adulturous relationship between the lady and the knight growing so unbearable that they are reaching a point to where they are heavily inclined to consemate their love. Marie’s choice in language would generally forshadow a beautiful union between the lovers; however, this is not the case, it is actually the complete opposite. The only beauty the lovers can share is in their words, gifts and eyes, anything more would cause great distress and possibly even death.

“No bar, no fencing to divide tower from tower, hall from hall--Nothing but one high dark stone wall,” Marie writes in reference to the separation or lack thereof from her lover. The language here that Marie uses gives the reader a sense of how easily the lady is subdued by here love for the “other” knight. It appears that there is seem less weaving or combining of the affair and that of what the lady and her husband’s relationship is. A healthy marriage would have “fences” or the such to divide lovers from the interception of other potentially destructive relationships. These “fences” are the typical elements of a relationship that propel longevity and happiness; however, in broken or fragmented relationships, the barriers that eliminate the potential for transgressions are missing, such as in “Laustic.” The only barrier that is physically there is the “black stone wall,” which is a representation of the social responsibilities of a marriage. And stepping over that wall has a host of associated risk, such as social ridicule or disownment. Because the wall is high and black, it has a particularly dark connotation. The language leads one to thing that because the wall is high, it is something that should not or will not be easy to cross. The hue of the wall leads one to associate the wall with the negative aspects that come along with the color black. Black is the color of evil, of illness and of the night, where bad things happen. It is not like the day where there is sustenance and life, it is the night where dark things lurk and where there is grave danger, it is a time or place where one must tread carefully. Because the lady crosses this wall not physically but emotionally makes it so much worse, because she is willing to give here soul to this other man rather than her body, when she is supposed to be entirely devoted to her husband. One should be able to control their emotions easier than they can their sex drive, because this is a conscious, non-lustrous endeavor, it is all the worse.

Their houses, halls and keeps were close by each other and there was no barrier or division, apart from a high wall of dark-hued stone,“ in this line Marie of course literally describes the physical bounderies of the lovers. Because symbolism is many times much like the subconscious and has beliefs or expresses ideas inadvertantly, I am reluctant to say that Marie intended to lay out the non-physical bounderies simultaneously. However, the point is that the sentence alludes to the potential social ramafications of crossing lines and how easy it is to do so. The houses being so close together symbolizes the relationship prospects of the lovers and how easily they could be together completely; the only thing stopping them is the stone wall, which is a symbol of the fortified ideas of their society and the given rigidty of it. Also, the wall being a dark-hue also alludes to the innate evil of such an action as to cross the wall and violate ideals and values; if the wall were white, it could be interpreted as wise to pass it, or if it were grey, it could be neutral, but because it is dark is if anything a warning; this idea system works because of the binary assumptions accumlated of the longevity of human understanding of the world.

“The lady took up the body small. Weeping hard, she cursed them all, those traitors to the laustic who made the traps and snares to sneak away her joy forever more;” in these lines, Marie plainly constructs the lady’s character, but of course through the language she gives much deeper meaning than is readily available through words alone. It appears that the lady truly cares about the nightingale, however it is really a reference to how she cares about the possibility for her to continue her affair. Because the nightingale is a representation of whom she is, and it is her scapegoat for sneaking out of bed at night to meet her lover she is distraught that she is confined to her social constraints. It is a critique of how she feels about being snapped back into reality with the snapping of the nightingales neck. The lady is in a fantasy that she has for so long now been able to remain in at the cover of night. She is allowed to live in her own world of absent morals or constraints while the nightingale sings. Because singing is something beautiful, taking away that voice takes away the beauty in the lady’s world; it is the beauty that she derives from the emotional affair with the other knight.

Marie De France’s “Laustic” has language that is laden with meaning that one can derive primarily from the language usages reference to alternative meaning that transcend the language readily at hand. It is much like literature, it transcends time, culture and language. The structuralism approach gives reader the tools appropriate to deeply read into a text and find the meanings that are there but maybe hidden to the average reader. This a piece that treats love with obscure and powerful symbolic refrences while still maintaing the basic and simple ideas concerning love.


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Comments 2 comments

charlene 5 years ago

Well done, your paper helped me gain important insight in to the many symbols in the story and their multiple meanings.

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Jawanza 5 years ago from Bronx, NY Author

Thank you very much Charlene, glad to hear my motive is being fulfilled.

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