Yonec particularly interested me this week, mostly for its shape-shifting King. I was curious about why it was a hawk this king was able to transform into. Although the lai doesn’t come out and say he is a hawk, it does say the bird that flies into the lady’s chamber “looked like a hawk / of five or six moultings” (Lines 110-111). I think the likeness of the hawk instead of a definite claim to be a hawk is to avoid the king being characterized as less than human. I found the use of a hawk as opposed to any other bird to be interesting because of the hunting skills hawks possess. Not only is this King rich, noble, Christian, and courteous, he’s also an excellent hunter, even when he is in an un-human form. Hunting seems to be a recurring theme in the lais we’ve read. A knight’s desire, and ability, to hunt is something natural and accepted (as long as it doesn’t prevent other knightly duties). Even in Equitan, the use of hawks for hunting purposes is presented to the reader. We’re told the seneschal would never “neglect his hunting, his hawking, or his other amusements” (Lines 27-28).
The description of his castle when the lady (who goes unnamed) follows his trail of blood is similar to the descriptions of fairy possessions we’ve encountered. “The feet of the bed were all of polished gold, / I couldn’t guess the value of the bedclothes; / the candles and the chandeliers, / which were lit night and day / were worth the gold of an entire city.” (Lines 389- 392). So, here we have a King from a far away land who has always loved a lady, but had to wait until the right time to appear, and has unimaginable wealth and many followers. Why not make him a fairy instead of a hawk? Does this representation retain more of his humanity? Or is he a fairy who takes the shape of a hawk to travel?
I think I need to encounter the text again before drawing any definite conclusions about the use of the hawk opposed to other birds.