Human and Animal Relationships in Bisclavret

Hi all, after reading Marie de France’s Bisclavret, I have a lot of random thoughts about the text that I figured I would share. First, I am struggling with the idea that Bisclavret loses his gender identity while in werewolf form. He is immediately referred to as an “it” rather than “he,” as well as being directly called a “beast” when he first encounters the King in the forest. On page 185 in our book, the King says, “Look at this wonder, / how this beast humbles itself! / It has human understanding, it begs mercy” (lines 152-4). The King acknowledges his human-like qualities, but is unable to refer to Bisclavret in human-like terms, always calling him a beast. The word beast, as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, can mean a variety of things, but I feel that when the King and people around him refer to Bisclavret as the beast, they mean it in a derogatory way, as less than human. However, in Peggy McCracken’s article, she says that the King and Bisclavret are much alike, as the King also hunts for his prey in the forest, much like Bisclavret in his werewolf form. I wonder if there is anything to the idea that the King is just as animalistic, or beast-like, as the werewolf. On a lighter note, the story also made me think of other portrayals of werewolves and lycanthriopy in movies. Unlike Bisclavret, who only attacks the knight and his wife in the story, it seems that modern day werewolf tales show werewolves more as monstrous figures that will kill anything in it’s way. I was wondering if you all thought that maybe Marie de France wanted to show the relationship between Bisclavret and the King as a metaphor for the way that humans have treated animals over the course of history. Hopefully some of my random thoughts make sense. Also, one more thing quickly, I found it strange that there is no detail of the actual transformation that Bisclavret goes through, as these details are what make werewolves scary in horror movies and other texts involving werewolves. I’ll end this by posting a video of one of my favorite human to werewolf transformations in the movie The Howling. (don’t watch if you don’t like gross-looking things!) The Howling transformation scene Also, I found a video of some teens performing the story, which is pretty funny but pretty accurate as well! summary video


2 thoughts on “Human and Animal Relationships in Bisclavret

  1. Hi Ben, I was wondering similar things about animals and gender. Tamed animals seem to habitually have their gender acknowledged (like one’s own dog or cat), but wild animals are always “it” as if the unknowability leads to a stripping of sexual identity. People always have some sort of sexual persona acknowledged, but animals mostly do not. Does this have something to do with some sort of controllable by humans/uncontrollable by humans axis that any given animal exists upon. In other words, we can acknowledge our family dog’s gender persona because it’s safe (i.e. we control when and if the dog can have sex (weird but true)) but a wolf is beyond our control, and so we don’t want to think about all those baby wolves it is supposed to be making (which are commodities out of our control).

    A werewolf, as a double being, is even more out of own control — it’s “were”-ness (a Anglo-Saxon word that means “man”) giving it a kind of sexual volatility we would otherwise be unable to ascribe to the wolf part. I think this is where we see Bisclavret’s character exposed, because he is a beast and can indulge in carnal passions free of moral restraint, eat what he wants, run around the forest naked, etc. Instead he chooses to go along with the king and act tame, and deny himself those appetites, like a gentleman and a knight should do. Bisclavret has to earn the right to be a “he” again by denying himself the sexual license he should otherwise have.

    Okay, now I’m rambling so I leave off here.

    Cool video — love the Howling!


  2. Nothing too profound to add here…I need my coffee first… But I just had to share my favorite werewolf transformation, from one of my favorite movies The Monster Squad. It’s like Goonies, but better and worse at the same time!

    Also…I need help with links when leaving a reply! : )


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