I intend on completing option C for my paper. The text that I will be using is Marie de France’s Bisclavret. I will be reading it with a feminist approach, and then with an object-oriented approach. From the feminist approach I will further consider aspects of the lai like the motives for the wife’s betrayal of Bisclavret, her representation as the sole female in the lai, the male-dominated society in Bisclavret, and Bisclavret’s brutal attack of the wife at the end of the lai. I expect this to be a typical feminist reading of Bisclavret.
However, through the work I have been doing with the annotated bibliography, I find the feminist approach inadequate. That is because the standard male versus female dichotomy is not all that is present in Bisclavret. Instead, a male versus female versus werewolf division is in the works—and this is when one is considering the human only. A feminist approach attempts to keep Bisclavret in the realm of the human, but what is human? Is Bisclavret human? Is he werewolf? Or is he simply Bisclavret with all that it entails?
Those questions call in the object-oriented approach. From the object-oriented approach I anticipate exploring questions like “Is being human a prerequisite for being a knight?” or “Is being werewolf being human? What does it mean to be ‘human?” To better consider these questions I will be utilizing sources that discuss monsters and their purpose in the human realm, critical animal studies, and object-oriented studies. I would like to explicate the idea that the werewolf experience is unique to Bisclavret, that he is not the universal werewolf, and that a strictly anthropocentric feminist reading of the lai is too limiting.
I enjoyed this week’s reading, particularly Bisclavret. I always enjoy when we read the medieval literary texts because I get a chance to test out OOO.
I was hooked as early as line five in Bisclavret. As soon as I read the “old[en] days” (5) description of a werewolf I thought, “Ok! Here we go!” (5-14). In addition to my modern notion of a werewolf I am now equipped with the knowledge that the medieval werewolf as an object is just as gruesome, if not worse. Seems as if Bisclavret is pretty limited in his range of actions, huh? Eating men, unleashing fury, and hanging out in the depths of the forest. But not so fast! After Bisclavret’s wife has her new knight hide Bisclavret’s clothing (120-6) causing Bisclavret to be stuck as a werewolf the audience learns that this werewolf retains many of the same tendencies (16-20) he had as a nobleman (178-84). As it turns out, werewolves aren’t as static as our definition would like for them to be. Though the king and his men expected him to behave like a wild animal (151-7), this werewolf is noble and loved by many.
An artist on deviantart.com with the handle MelancholyTsuki created this drawing of Bisclavret.
Therefore, Bisclavret isn’t the “savage beast” (9). Rather, I would argue, that it is his “estimable wife, / one of lovely appearance” who is the beast (21-2) here because of what she does to Bisclavret. How interesting that while she looks worthy of respect and looks lovely she is the one who maliciously does harm while Bisclavret only attacks in vengeance. Just like with the werewolf, this is not how one would expect a pretty, noblewoman as object to act. I even hesitate to title this blogpost “The Noble Werewolf” because essentially I am discrediting the possibility of werewolves to be noble and am therefore labeling Bisclavret as an exceptional werewolf.
[Sidenote: And isn't it interesting that werewolves are actually human as well? Do you think it could be argued, then, that Bisclavret has such a wide range of agency (evoking both fear and loyalty) because he retains this human part? I think that what we have been studying would argue against that and claim that any thing possesses this possibility in their agentic reach. Bisclavret reminds me a lot of Dr. Frankenstein's creature--was anyone else reminded of the creature?]
After reading Dr. Seaman’s Preview of Week 6 I contemplated comparing the generous figures of Cleges and Lanval, but while actually reading Lanval I thought that I would like to discuss another actant of the story: the horses. You may be laughing now, but Lanval’s horse is mentioned several times and if you think about it, what is a knight without his horse? Essentially, this horse is as much a part of Lanval’s identity as a knight as his armor is, but I want to talk about this horse as its own, separate actant.
The reader is first introduced to Lanval’s horse in line 41 when Lanval has decided to go “amuse himself” (42). Consider how this story would have changed if the horse failed to move. Would Lanval have ever met his love? Let me put it another way, what if your car fails to start the morning of one of the most important days of your life? What I am suggesting through the studies that we have been doing these previous weeks is that the horse’s movement forward is an exhibition of its agency. It could have remained immobile as some stubborn horses often do, and just like your car it would no longer be just a horse, but now a lousy horse who has not performed the duties that humans have assigned to it.
Continuing, once Lanval arrives at his destination the horse “tremble[s] badly” (46) yet remains “around the meadow” (48). Here again this horse could have very well raced away because it senses some trouble, but stays. Once more, how would this story have been different if Lanval’s loyal steed evacuated the premises? In fact, Lanval even deserts his horse “giving no thought to” it (77-8) until it was time to leave (190-1). [Note: I realize that using "it" objectifies the horse even further, but without a name or gender I am limited in my representation.] Perhaps I am reaching here, but by bringing all matter in this story to that horizontal plane, the horse plays a pivotal role in this story when viewed as having more agency than one would normally assign to it.
One thing that strikes me as interesting in Guigemar is the necessity placed upon love. I read Guigemar after reading the introduction to The Lais of Marie de France and it discusses how other contemporaneous courtly romances “differ from the Lais in that they are concerned with both love and chivalry, with the proper balance between a knight’s responsibility to his society, his service to others, and the fulfillment of his own desires while Marie’s primary concern is with the personal needs of the knight” (Hanning and Ferrante 11). I would like to disagree here because I think that Marie pushes this balance as well.
The importance placed upon this balance first appears in line 57 for “in forming him nature had so badly erred/that he never gave any thought to love” (Marie de France). So far we have learned that Guigemar is bright, valiant, and a good knight. Is that not enough? Dr. Seaman discussed on Wednesday that the French love ideal is at work here, so apparently love needs to enter the picture or else Guigemar remains flawed. I would like to argue that love is not a “personal need” of Guigemar’s, and if “Marie’s primary concern is with the personal needs of the knight” such importance would not be placed on love—Guigemar’s physical health even depends on finding this cure: love.
Guigemar, after staying with his family, is suddenly “seized by the desire to hunt” (76). It sounds like Guigemar really values being a knight which in turn makes his pursuit of being a great knight a personal need. I imagine him waking up and proclaiming, “I must hunt!” In fact, Marie even writes that hunting “gave him much pleasure,” and until that incident with the deer happens it appears that Guigemar is happy in his life. Wouldn’t you say then that his personal needs have been satisfied? Everyone harps on Guigemar about the love thing and eventually they just “g[i]ve him up for lost” because it is that serious (68). This “personal need” for love, as described in the introduction, sounds more like his “responsibility to his society”—to become natural (57) and satisfy everyone else.
While I certainly understand love as a value it is not a value of Guigemar’s until his identity as a knight (the curing of his wound) depends on it. Because of this I do not think that love is a personal need of Guigemar’s –meaning he did not seek it out on his own accord: after he was injured he wants to be healed by someone and not cured by love (125-32)—but a requirement placed upon him by society. Therefore, Marie is also concerned with the balance that her contemporaries were.
A professor once told me that although it is often differences we study, similarities are also just as important. I try to keep this in mind when learning about a new culture/time period, and was again reminded of this fact when we were comparing the varieties of English that have existed and how many words have stayed relatively recognizable, if not the same, over hundreds of years.
I was reminded of another similarity when talking in class yesterday. I was very interested in what Dr. Seaman said about how much more common it is than one might think for a knight to have a helpful woman assistant/aide at his side, offering advice or helping to keep him on track in medieval literature. I don’t think I ever would have expected it, but it got me thinking about our own modern day heroes and the need for heroes in general. Iron Man and his assistant, Pepper Potts, immediately popped into my mind. Pepper is no damsel in distress, but is instead there throughout the movie to keep Iron Man grounded (when possible) and even help him survive various life-threatening scenarios. She is integral to his well-being. The Green Hornet also has an equally intelligent and independent office secretary, Lenore Case, who offers him advice and helps him (although unwittingly) decide on what actions to take. Some of the characteristics that we’ve talked about in class that appear in knightly tales are a confrontation with danger, maintenance of reputation, and responsibility to do the right thing. I think these characteristics can be found in modern super hero stories as well. Both Iron Man and The Green Hornet face very dangerous and violent situations, they both take pride in their altar ego’s reputation, and they both feel a strong sense of duty when it comes to righting a wrong.
Are comic book super heroes no more than modern day knights’ tales? What function did a medieval knight tale serve, and is it the same function that superhero stories serve today?