Man and Wolfman Posted on October 8, 2014 by jkgilber Compare and contrast Bisclavret and “Biclarel” in how both werewolves transform.
As far as I could tell, the werewolves transformed in the same way. Both went off alone and naked a few days every week, and were only able to return to their human bodies by putting their original clothes back on. Bisclaret is a bit more vague than Bisclavret in the actual transformation process, noting only through the wife’s perspective:
“She saw clearly where he put his clothes;
She saw clearly his method and his manner.
She took his clothes and carried them away with her” (lines 263-265)
As far as the werewolf’s actual attacks, however, we do not see Bisclaret attacking the wife’s new lover or the specific aspect of the wife’s nose being torn off (a trait which, in Bisclavret, is passed down to her children). Overall, I thought the main difference between these stories was not the method of the werewolf’s transformation, but the ending message. Bisclaret was blatantly, unapologetically a message of misogyny. Bisclavret, on the other hand, while still containing misogynic aspects, seemed also to be a critcism of human superiority.
I agree with Kaleb that we don’t really see enough of the change to know whether or not there’s a difference. Marie de France’s Bisclavret describes his change thusly: “I become a werewolf:/ I go off into the great forest, / in the thickest part of the woods, / and I live on the prey I hunt down” (63-66).
All the werewolf stories we read contained rather unflattering portrayals of the wives in question and I wonder if the secret wolf inside these men is not some sort of medieval justification for domestic violence. Off track, I know, but a thought.
The wife of Bisclavret, unlike the already cheating wife of Biclarel, is just plain afraid of him and, apparently, with good reason. Not that that’s an excuse for trapping your husband in the body of a wolf.
As the two people before me have mentioned, we really do not see the transformations at all. They are hinted at, suggested with the removal of clothing, but no real description is given. In Biclarel he states that he “take[s] off all [his] clothes, / And then, for two or three days, I am / a wild beast in the woods” (lines 226-228). Similarly in BIsclavret the man admits to “go[ing] stark naked” (line 70), without further details on how the transformation occurs.
Interestingly, in BIsclavret, the man fears “harm will come to [him] if [he] tell[s] [her] this, / because [he]’d lose [her] love / and even [his] very self” (lines 54-56). This suggests that the man in this story sees the transformation into a werewolf as strong force, capable of changing not only other’s perception of him, but also his own perception of himself. He places the power, and also the blame, in his own hands though, with whether or not he tells her. On the other hand, in BIclarel, the man refers to his transformation as “a destiny, / without suffering or fear, / for each month [he] become[s] a beast” (lines 221-223). In this instance, the transformation into a werewolf appears as more of something that has more power over the man.
As has been discussed above, I do not think we see enough of the transformations to adequately account for their similarities or differences in any detail.
However, what I do find striking about these two were-fellows is, as Kaleb suggests, that in order for them to return to their human form they must put on their original clothes. For some reason this makes me think of the Emare-robe assemblage–a woman ‘wordy unthur wede’. In Emare the robe does the work of effectively hiding her body while at the same time making her a spectacle. To my point: Bennett says that human objects enhance their own power through heterogeneous assemblages and also that to be human is to be attached to things, to non human objects. There were-men seem to have the same attachment to their clothing objects.
Like Emare, who seems unable to detach herself from her robe, the were men almost have to perform the opposite: by re-assembling themselves to their non-human objects they appear to regain their humanity through this action.
As Kaleb also mentioned, I find the incident of the torn off nose to be quite interesting (and sadistically…funny). The fact that this missing nose trait gets passed down to her children speaks to the concept of genetics and heredity that the medieval world operated under. I think that instead of these were stories as a symbol for domestic violence, they seem to me to be speaking to a different kind of issue–that of difference, deformity, etc. That a nose can be torn off in this realm does not affect only the person who lost the nose, but all of her offspring, and what of their offspring? This creates a whole new line of monsters.
As stated, the werewolves generally follow a similar pattern to their transformation.
“I go off into the forest, / in the thickest part of the woods” (ll. 64-65)
” ‘Wife,’ he replied, ‘I got stark naked’ (l. 70).
And for Biclarel:
“He would live as a beast in the forest” (l. 40).
I am interested in the idea of misogyny or as Emily put it, “justification for domestic violence.” The wives are shows in a terrible light, and Biclarel opens up with this gem:
“He is very foolish who marries
A fickle wench:
It is just not worth it for him to suffer
And to expose himself to all that shame
With great risk to soul and body,
From which he will never be free;” (ll. 1-6).
This shows the wife as synonymous with the disease inflicting him, something he can’t escape from that wrecks his soul and body. Something that he can’t get rid of once he’s in it (marriage). The fact that’s she an adulterer adds even more weight behind this negative portrayal .