Jan 24: Yonec and Bisclavret

A main feature of both lais is the concept of a woman feeling trapped in her marriage and turning to infidelity as a solution. While both situations vary greatly, the unfaithful woman is ultimately punished in the end of the story. What does this treatment of infidelity say about the general attitude, or perhaps Marie’s attitude, towards women and their part in courtly love rituals?

8 thoughts on “Jan 24: Yonec and Bisclavret

  1. When it comes to “Yonec”, the woman was punished for being greedy in her love. Though her love was pure, she did not heed her lover’s warnings about calling in him too often. Her punishment wasn’t necessarily that she was cheating on her husband, but that she wasn’t careful in doing so. Her love turned her selfish. In “Bisclavret”, the woman’s desire to question her husband was the thing she was punished for. Her lack of trust and her selfish need for answers caused the downfall of their marriage, not just the infidelity.

    In conclusion, I believe Marie de France has a blasé attitude towards courtly live within the restrictions of tradition marriage. What she has issues with is violating that love with a one-sided need. The need for constant physical attention in “Yonec” or to question the husbands motives in “Bisclavret”- those convey a lack of trust from the wife to the lover or the wife to the husband. Marie de France seems to be pushing a different idea: Without trust there is no “true” love.

  2. Love is a very delicate beast to tackle, especially when one side of the marriage is unhappy in some way. In both of these stories the women are unhappy about something in their marriage, whether it be the marriage itself or stress caused by the husband. Marie shows that while these women are unhappy, they are bound by their marriage, or else they will be punished. The general attitude is that if women did not stay true to their relationship, and begin to doubt or cheat, they will face punishment while if a man had done that, he would not be punished at all. I believe these stories bring up the issue with courtly love, and how some women grow unhappy but have no direct way out without negative consequences.

  3. The first story saw the lady feeling unhappy in her marriage, but she was not “trapped” in the way that the lady in Yonec was. In fact, Bisclavret’s character loved her enough to tell her the truth of his lycanthropy. She wasn’t even sure if she loved the second man, the chevalier. It suited her in the moment to leave Bisclavret because he was a werewolf. However, in Yonec, the lady is imprisoned. Marie is, perhaps, saying that it is right to act on love when you really love that person. If you “break the heart” of the person who truly loves you, then you have greatly erred.

  4. I would actually argue that the woman in Yonec was not punished but rewarded for her infidelity. Granted, her lover is killed, adding a tragic element to the story, but his death brings her relief from the tyranny of her husband, by way of a magical ring, and grants her an heir that turns out to be royalty. Not to mention she also regains her beauty and will to live. I would say that Marie perceives the infidelity present in Yonec to be a different animal (no pun intended) than the infidelity present in Bisclavret. The wife in Bisclavret betrays her husband’s trust based solely on the fact that he occasionally becomes a werewolf, despite the fact that he was completely honest with her and never caused her any harm or treated her unfairly. Meanwhile Carwent is characterized as a lecherous old man who treats his young wife like a possession, regularly subjecting her to his unwanted sexual advances and then neglecting her in all other regards. As such, I believe Marie treats Carwent’s wife’s infidelity as a matter of emotional survival rather than a betrayal.

  5. I think if anything the stories we have read (including Guigemar) prove Marie’s belief that women should pursue happiness in relationships. The only woman that is punished is the wife in Bisclavret, but this is not because she pursues her love. This woman is punished because she betrays her husband and willingly does him harm. The other two women are ultimately rewarded for chasing their desires. The woman in Yonec may die, but she is immediately avenged by her son who becomes a lord and is laid to rest in a wealthy tomb next to her love. In this way she is actually rewarded, not punished. Also in both Bisclavret and Guigemar the women leave relationships with unattractive old men to be with attractive knights. This leads me to believe that Marie was even more open to the idea of women’s sovereignty in her relationship, since she does not perpetuate the idea that it is ‘wrong’ to fall in love with someone because of their looks.

  6. In the Bisclavret and Yonec stories, the women are punished in different ways. I think Marie is trying to say In Yonec that too much of a good thing is lethal. The woman is not punished for having a lover, but for luring him to his death by her greed. This is illustrated in the way her lover dies and blames the woman. In Bisclavret, the woman was punished not for her infedelity but for trapping him as a werewolf for all eternity. Marie is possibly telling tales to warn against excess. Too much of a good thing is not always better.

  7. Although the lady in “Yonec” became selfish with her love and did not heed her lover’s warning, I would say that she was not punished so harshly. The lai seemed to be rooting for the lady and her lover, despite the lady’s infidelity to her awful husband. In “Bisclavret,” however, the lady was, herself, the villain of the story. She betrayed Bisclavret, who loved her deeply, by making him unable to become a man again and by marrying a man that she saw only as a way to keep her comfortable lifestyle. Her infidelity was wrong and was severely punished because of the horrible things she did to Bisclavret. I believe that Marie had a circumstantial view of infidelity and courtly love–if, like the lady in “Yonec,” you were the one being hurt, courtly love could save you. But, if you were horrible like the lady in “Bisclavret,” infidelity was an act of betrayal and should be punished.

  8. It’s entirely possible that the women of Marie’s lays serve a didactic function for ladies of the court, including the trials and temptations that are associated with that position. Brooke offers one such interpretation, that to trespass on “true love” is akin to a mortal sin. As we noted in class, the idea of “courtly love” is a scholarly label – medieval folk considered this concept an objective notion among many (like the divine right of kings or the inherent goodness of God). So for the aristocratic woman, the topic of adultery and betrayal is a dimension of love that bears worthy discussion. Marie de France, in the lais of Yonec and Bisclavret is not merely documenting such a temptation and objectifying the adulteress, but also giving the space for debate on whether a woman in difficult circumstances is right or wrong to break the chivalric code.

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