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Abstract

The representation of sin and sexuality in Marie de France’s Lais is a topic that continues to be debated among scholars, as the unexpected storylines – including adultery, bestiality, and physical violence – often clash with our preconceived notions concerning the medieval principles of modesty and restraint. The provoking, even disconcerting, nature of this work becomes quite apparent when examined in conjunction with their later adaptations in the thirteenth century, as King Hákon of Norway commissioned the translation of several lais into Old Norse as a means of promoting the courtly codes and conventions within French literature. Focusing on the lais found in the Strengleikar manuscript, this essay will examine how the Norse translations were adapted to reflect their own customs and views on sin and depravity. Upon close inspection, subtle yet telling modifications will expose both a shift in sensibility and significant changes in content, rendering the lais more fitting for the comparably refined Norwegian audience, as well as an attempt to appropriate the lais, embedding them within Norse society. Ultimately, during a time of ever-changing laws and religious perspectives, we find that both oeuvres reveal greater social and political truths relevant to their particular cultures.