Date of Award


Document Type

M.A. Essay

First Advisor

Andrea Tarnowski

Second Advisor

George Edmondson


Marie de France’s Lanval and Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale are two medieval stories based on the Breton form of poetry called the lai. Both texts focus on rash actions, in particular thoughtless utterance, committed by virtuous foreigners, and the consequences that ensue. On the surface, the outsiders suffer xenophobia and the disfavor of the local patriarchy. But their true problem is the “excess” that they carry with them. Communities censor the circulation of this excess, i.e., all people, objects and relationships that either come from outside or deviate from local norms. Reading excess in these tales through the lens of Mauss and Derrida, as well as studies on social order by medievalists such as Duby and Andrew Cowell, shows how characters interact with larger socioeconomic structures and gamble successfully or unsuccessfully to achieve their goals. Through analysis of the circulation of material, emotions, and relationships, this essay ultimately investigates the storytellers’ standing in the encounter between a stable, feudal system and a new “capitalist” economy avant la lettre.