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Analysis of Three Elements

Analysis of Three Elements

Element 1: The Extended Metaphor


In “Chevrefoil”, Marie de France makes use of extended metaphors.  The literary device is “a metaphor that is developed over several lines of writing or even an entire poem or paragraph” (Albert 1447).  The author compares the love of Tristan and Isolde to honeysuckle wrapped around a hazel tree.  The extended metaphor is very descriptive:


     With the two of them it was just

     as it is with the honeysuckle

     that attaches itself to the hazel tree:

     when it has wound and attached

     and worked itself around the trunk,

     the two can survive together;

     but if someone tries to separate them,

     the hazel dies quickly

     and the honeysuckle with it.

     “Sweet love, so it is with us:

     You cannot live without me, nor I

     without you.” (de France 718)


The metaphor describes how much the two lovers need each other.  They are passionate about each other and deeply in love.  Tristan and Isolde are unable to live without each other.  Honeysuckle grows on hazel trees and cannot live without the hazel tree. The hazel tree cannot live without the honeysuckle.  Like the lives of the two plants, the lives of the two lovers are entwined and cannot be separated without causing destruction and grief to their hearts.

Element 2: Breton Lais


“Chevrefoil” is a Breton lai.  A lai is “a poetic and musical form popular among the poets (trouvères) of northern France.”  Marie de France’s poems have 8 syllables per line and are called octosyllabic.  A Breton lai is a brief, rhymed poem written about love and romance practiced by the Breton storytellers (Fajardo-Acosta).  Breton lais were written in the common language of the people of the medieval times, instead of Latin.  The style allowed for great variation, but all Breton lais had similar characteristics:

1)  The protagonist could be male or female.  This is rare in romances, where the protagonist almost always is male. 

2)  The protagonist is from a privileged upbringing, usually noble.

3)  The tale, itself, will be short, and it sometimes refers to lyric performance as if it once was intended to be sung.

4)  The plot usually involves the pursuit of a loved one, and supernatural elements usually play a part in the outcome.

5)  Because of the extreme economy of the plot, the climax usually involves extraordinary events.

6)  All medieval Breton lais are composed in rhymed verse, but in the twentieth century, Guy de Maupassant, an author born in Brittany, wrote many short prose fictions which met the first, third, fourth and fifth criteria (Sanders).

Marie de France wrote her famous Lais in the Breton style.



      Element 3: Arranged Marriages


In the story of Tristan and Isolde, Isolde’s marriage to King Mark was arranged by others.  Before her wedding, Isolde knew little of King Mark.  With Tristan, she found true love and was happy.  With her husband, King Mark, she felt little love and longed to be with Tristan.  Are arranged marriages a good thing?  Do they serve a purpose?


Arranged marriages still happen in today’s world.  Western cultures often find it hard to believe this fact.  Arranged marriages may be part of a religion or a tradition for some societies.  Some cultures still contribute dowries with the bride.  In India, “it is an accepted fact that a person’s family will play a role in picking the marriage partner.” Divorces in India are not acceptable, so a marriage must be appropriate from the start.  These societies believe that young adults cannot be trusted to make emotional decisions that will affect their life forever.  Therefore, the family picks out a mate according to many factors including the level of education, culture, proximity to parents, religion, wealth, personality, and status.  The family is trying to ensure the son or daughter will be appropriately paired and the marriage will result in a good life (Arranged Marriages and Dowry).  Arranged marriages are more common in Eastern cultures than in Western cultures.

Albert, Susan Wittig, et al. World Literature. 3rd ed. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,



"Arranged Marriages and Dowry." Pardesi Fashions. 2006. Pardesi Services LLC. 26

May 2007 <>.



de France, Marie. “Chevrefoil.” World Literature. Trans. Robert Hanning and Joan

Ferrante. 3rd ed. Ed. Bill Wahlgren. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2001.



Fajardo-Acosta, Fidel. "Marie de France (late 12th c.)." Department of English. 2007.

Creighton University. 26 May 2007 <>.


Sanders, Arnie. "Breton Lais as a Genre." English 240: Medieval Literature. 2006.

Goucher College. 26 May 2007