the city. one knight is married to a beautiful wife; the second, a bachelor, is in love with the wife of the first (who has granted her love in return). As the two knights are neighbors, the lovers, separated by a wall, speak to each other nightly at an adjoining window. To evade her jealous husband, the lady claims that she gets up during the night because she loves to hear the song of the nightingale. The angry husband has the bird trapped and shows it to his wife. When she pleads for him to release it, he instead kills it and throws it on her, staining her garment. The lady wraps the bird in a cloth and sends it to her lover. He makes a little golden, jeweled casket for the bird, and thenceforth he carries it around with him at all times.
Typically enough for Marie's lais, "Laustic" serves as a scholarly vortex for opposing views on love. Some feel that "Laustic" does not chart a tale of true love at all. The wife agrees to the pleas of the bachelor knight because he is good, but also simply because he lives near her. The tale is devoid of the quest for love that we encounter, for example, in Marie's "Guigemar," or the magical transformation of "Yonec," in which a man metamorphoses into a bird in order to enter the room of his lover. Furthermore, while in "Yonec" the husband's fatal wounding of the bird/man ultimately leads to an ennobling of the love (the lady jumps out her window and goes off to find her beloved) and to a revenge against the jealous husband (the son born of the love affair later cuts off the husband's head), in "Laustic" there is no sense that the lovers make any effort to pursue their relationship after the bird is killed.
on the other hand, the husband in "Laustic" acts excessively, and his character builds sympathy for the frustrated lovers. Moreover, the unmarried knight's continuing devotion, manifested in his carrying of the casket, suggests the meaningfulness of what existed between himself and his neighbor's wife. Although the nightingale has been crushed as a vehicle for their relationship, it still serves as a memorial, as does the lai itself. The enclosure of the bird evokes the context of a spiritual reliquary (although this imagery has also been interpreted as an ironic comment on the lovers unspiritual love).
The association between the casket and the poem— two artistic constructions that hold potential meaning within—raises the central issue of love in a different way. Clearly Marie is interested in the imagery of entrapment in "Laustic." The wife is held within her own home, and the bird is first ensnared by the husband's servants, then encased in its little coffin. Does the lai become a sort of beautifully adorned mausoleum for a love that was never really alive; or, conversely, does it reveal that what is inside, although static (the written form of the tale, the dead bird), still has movement through the symbolic and interpretive messages it conveys?
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