Marie de France

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Is there such a thing as a negative assemblage? In Marie de France’s Equitan, we see how the love affair between the king and his seneschal’s wife is wrong and will have terrible consequences for them in the end. Marie is clearly subverting the courtly love virtues of the time (like ones espoused in Guigemar for instance) in her cynical (rather than sincere or straightforward) presentation of the love affair.

In the courtly love tradition, love was not really love without pain and suffering. Truly loving someone could be described as fundamentally irrational, but necessary for the love to say alive. However, it is obvious that, in this story, their love is characterized by destructive tendencies. The affair literally destroys them—it is a lack of loyalty, honor, or discretion leads them toward a painful demise.

Ultimately, the message is one of reciprocity: your evil deeds will not go unpunished. At the end, she admonishes: “whoever wants to hear some sound advice/can profit from this example:/he who plans evil for another/may have that evil rebound back on him” (lines 307-310). The “love” assemblage in this story, not only does not work, but proves to be fatal for both lovers. They committed the sin of loving too strongly, the irony being than in any other story “loving too strongly” is often viewed as a virtue.

We think of assemblages as working toward the common good, but are they all necessarily performing this function? The affair (demonstrating the “power” of love) in Equitan does not end well for the ones involved. The resolution of the love affair suggests that something was out of balance in the first place. The king values his love over his loyalty, and in doing so, allows his passion to overwhelm his reason. Considering the primary imbalance of the assemblage, it is clear that the fate of the unfaithful couple will not end well.
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