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.
In our discussion of Yonec the question was raised of why the zombie-king was executed after his change of heart. Personal journeys of spiritual redemption are commonplace in Marie’s works, yet the king’s redemption (he “never assaulted or abused [the lady]” after the knight’s death) is disregarded (456). Marie’s denial of the king’s redemption reflects a fundamental flaw in his change of heart- it is the ring that exerted its agency to change the king’s ways, overwhelming the agency of the king who would otherwise have preferred to be an abusive husband. In an assemblage, agency shifts between different actants within, and in the king’s network the ring shifted agency from the king’s will, rendering his redemptive actions as morally weightless as they were not backed by the king’s true will. Marie seems to be saying that virtue can only exist in a knightly world if it comes from the soul, something the zombie-king either lost to the ring or never possessed in the first place.
In yesterday’s discussion of Yonec, we decided that Yonec’s father’s humanity was not based on the form that he took, considering he appears as a hawk, a knight, and eventually takes the form of Yonec’s mother, but is based on his Christian faith. In order to make sure that her lover is “human,” Yonec’s mother has him prove that he believes in God, and the other forms that he takes seem to have nothing to do with this. I feel that this concept of humanity having little to do with the form one takes draws an interesting connection to Bisclarvet.
In Bisclarvet, as we know, he takes the form of a wolf. However, despite his form, he maintains his humanity, and when he becomes an acquaintance of the king he is more than a tame and loyal wolf, but more of a human being. This becomes most evident after Bisclarvet sees his former wife at the end of the poem and “ran toward her in a rage” and “tore the nose off her face” (233-35). After this, a “wise man” says to the king, “he has some grudge against” the woman, “and against her husband as well,” and suggests that they torture the woman and see what she knows (249-50). If a normal wolf, an animal with no humanity, had attacked the woman, no one would even consider that his attack was justified and would simply assume he was acting out of animal instinct. Here, however, it seems that Bisclarvet’s humanity still remains when he is in the form of a wolf, even though the human actors have no idea that he is a human in wolf form, which is why they believe his violence may be justified. It seems that in these two poems, what defines humanity is not outward form, but something inward.
This week while reading “Yonec” I was reminded a lot of “Guigemar” because of the same wife locked away in a room scenario. However, I liked that in “Yonec” the wife has more of a voice. In “Guigemar” we are given a description of the king that is very much like the description of the king in “Yonec.” he is “a very aged man who ha[s] a wife” (Guigemar 210). In “Yonec”, the king is “rich, old and ancient” (Yonec 12). So in “Guigemar” the king is characterized in terms of having a wife, and in “Yonec” the king is identified by his money. I don’t really see anything out of the ordinary here, but in “Yonec” we are provided with the wife’s perspective of her husband which I thought was just great. She calls him a “jealous old man” (71), and says that “when he should have been baptized / he was plunged instead in the river of hell; / his senews are hard, his veins are hard, / filled with living blood” (87-90). Whoa! I didn’t realize how much of a woman’s voice was lacking in the lais until this one finally spoke. I know women do speak occasionally in the lais, but this is the first time I really felt like I heard one with a voice.
Another exclamation of the wife’s that made me think is when she cries that she should have never been born, her fate is terrible, and that she is imprisoned until death (67-70). Most intriguingly she thinks, “What is this jealous old man afraid of / that he keeps me so imprisoned?” (71-2). If we place everything on a horizontal plane like Bennett suggests, I wonder how many other “things” like the wife are screaming inside to be allowed to be the director of their own agency instead of being forced to serve the agendas of others (humans). Going back to the wife’s earlier opinion of her husband: what if things could talk? What would they say about their “owners”?