The Power of Love In The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France
Love is very powerful, prevalent, and common theme that we encounter throughout both pieces of literature. Love is a genuine connection that occurs between individuals, which grants us a great interest or pleasure in something or someone. Between romance, heart-break, intimacy, and physical attraction, the role of love allows us to truly understand the different aspects of it and how extensive it can be. Most people think that the word love is only associated with romance, but it has many different forms and meanings which will be discovered while evaluating the role it plays in each piece of literature.
Throughout the epic, Shikibu highlights the various different romantic affairs that Genji experiences. The first “love” that Genji is able to feel is with Lady Fujitsubo, his first childhood crush. Lady Fujitsubo was summoned by the current emperor and appeared for the first time in court when Genji was a young boy. She helped him develop physically and psychologically as a young boy, serving as a mother figure to Genji. Futitsubo was a very prosperous and beautiful woman as described in the text, which leads Genji to become attracted to her.
At first, when Genji realizes that Lady Fujitsubo has similar features to his mother, he feels warm and touched. However, as Genji gets older and matures into a young man, he develops an unhealthy obsession and attraction to her. Because his innocent crushing as a child was never squashed or put to rest, Genji did not know better than to think it was okay to feel this intense attraction to her. Therefore, Genji tries to pursue the relationship as he grew older, but in a very inappropriate fashion. In her time of weakness and illness, Genji decides to rape Lady Funjitsubo and impregnate her. Their child together, Reizei, puts Lady Fujitsubo in fear of losing her position and power, but she remains conflicted about her feelings for Genji. Genji rapes her for a second time, so she decides to become a nun to escape the pressures of having to see him.
Another way Genji expresses his love for women is by writing poetry to the ones he feels attraction towards. The problem however, is that these women do not express the same type of interest in him, even though they feel it too. Many women that he writes to fall under the impression that an affair would not result in a positive outcome, so they resist their temptations even though they feel similarly towards Genji. The affairs that Gennji has encountered were with women that were not in the court. Due to his high position, the continuous scandalous affairs were not the ideal behavior for Genji to be having, so his kept his affairs on the low and pursued them in secrecy.
Another example of Genji’s affairs was the immediate attraction he felt for a princess after hearing her play music on her zither, an instrument that conducts sound through a wooden box and strings. Wasting no time, Genji writes her a series of letters to confess his love for her. However, the more information he began to find out about her, the more he stopped loving her. Genji maintained his role in the relationship even though his feelings had subsided because of the passionate effort he put into getting her attention in the first place.
It could be argued that the author may have included Genji’s series of affairs simply as a device to allow her to explain the reality behind love and affair, even though it is being portrayed through a fictional piece of literature The purpose of this is to present the foolishness of young love, in a series of devastating events that ranged from tragic obsession to absolute disaster. Sometimes love is triggered by stupid young impulsive decisions, or in times of dispair and tragedy. Although the ‘Tale of Genji’ incorporates Genji’s various interactions with women throughout the course of his life, is also highlights women as a whole; the way they feel, what they have been through, and their destiny. While love ideally should be two sided, there are various occurrences in life where it is unfortunately only one sided, and we see some of this throughout the epic.
The most significant and prevalent theme in The Lais of Marie de France is love. Love assists Marie in clarifying certain perspectives for her for different scenarios she encounters throughout the narrative poems. Marie has extreme and various perspectives on the topic of love and relationships revolving around love such as marriage, affairs outside of marriage, love that exists between lords and vassals, and parent-child love. Marie explains how depending on the type of love, it can either result in happiness or unhappiness. The examples she uses for happiness and unhappiness is Guigemar and Equitan. Guigemar is a knight who has no interest in romance and falling in love, until he goes overseas and falls in love with a married woman. Equitan is the Lord of Nantes, who falls in love with the wife of his servant and experiences a tragic death due to the forbidden affair. The different perspectives and love scenarios presented by Marie de France represent realistic situations and outcomes that individuals experience on a daily basis when dealing with romance or love.
Love can go one or two ways, especially in The Lais of Marie de France. A genuine and innocent love can sometimes be destroyed by the power of the universe. Marie uses Laustic as an example of this. On the other hand, sometimes people fall in love selfishly and experience a punishment. Marie uses Bisclavret as an example of this type of love. Bisclavret is a knight that has werewolf issues. His wife finds out about the werewolf side of him and becomes instilled with fear,convincing a suitor to trap him in his werewolf form forever. She does not remain loyal to her husband after learning about his issues.
Since these poems were based around Medieval times, love and marriage was a huge concept back then. The basic principle of courtly love portrays the fact that women were typically supposed to rely on their husbands for guidance, protection, and an urge of safety. However, in The Lais of Marie de France, the roles are reversed. The love that men express toward women are so intense that it causes them to become more noble and obedient human beings. These men have the unwillingness to live without their beloved women, which shows the effectiveness in which Marie displays a backwards representation of courtly love through her writing.
As noticed after examining both pieces of literature, love is a very powerful concept that conquers human feelings, the connection between human beings, and the world itself. While love comes in all different shapes and sizes, it has similar effects when it comes to building or breaking relationships between two individuals. In the Tale of Genji, we encounter love, lust, and forbidden affairs. In The Lais of Marie de France, different perspectives and scenarios regarding love and romance are evaluated, and we are able to grasp in understanding of each outcome and the impact that love holds in the universe.
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