Barry Rich

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

William J. Taylor

Committee Member

Angela Balla

Committee Member

Chad Thomas


Marie--de France--active 12th century--Lais., French literature--To 1500--Criticism and interpretation., French poetry--To 1500--Criticism and interpretation.


In this thesis, I examine Marie de France's applications of the oath in her Breton lais. With her own admittance that she writes to pay homage to a king, I argue that the oath represents a prominent feature of language and rhetoric that Marie uses to demonstrate the overarching power structure of the feudal society in which she is bound. I also propose that she critiques the sovereign's usurpation of language by using this trope throughout her works. Looking specifically at "Bisclavret," "Equitan," and "Yonec," I contend that Marie looks at how the sovereign uses the oath of power to control the bodies of his subjects, yet I claim further that Marie imagines moments wherein a return to an oath of pure language and mere ethos is possible. With these fantasies, she critiques sovereign authority, imaginatively subverting its power over language while fantasizing about a world devoid of sovereignty. Ultimately, however, I suggest that Marie resigns herself to this sovereign usurpation of language as these fantasies fail and the sovereign reigns in the end.



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