7th March 2018
Bisclarvet; How to Love
The Lais of Marie de France is a series of twelve short narrative Breton lais written in the Anglo-Norman that were composed in the late 12th century. The short, narrative poems focus on glorifying the concept of courtly love by the adventures of their main characters. One story, in particular, called Bisclarvet, is a story about a baron who turns into a werewolf and whose wife leaves him for another knight that has always been in love with her. But, when the wolf is taken in by the king and his former wife and her new lover are invited to the castle the baron turned monster exacts his revenge on the two. The story is a violent one of revenge and retribution but, the primary lesson In Bisclarvet, however, is learning how to love and how true love should be based on loyalty and respect and not physical attraction and lust, vanity and selfishness.
At the beginning of the story the lady that is married to the baron, Bisclarvet, is described as “attractive in appearance”[footnoteRef:0] and the Baron himself is described as “a good and handsome knight who conducted himself nobly.”[footnoteRef:1] Both of these descriptors are emphasizing surface level things like status and appearance and how the relationship between the two characters is not bound by true love but rather by vanity and lust. Which becomes apparent when the baron reveals the secret of becoming a werewolf to her after she had berated and “questioned him repeatedly and coaxed him so persuasively.”[footnoteRef:2] If you love someone, you respect and trust them not coax them into telling you their secrets. The man is even afraid to tell her saying “Lady, in God's name have mercy on me! If I tell you this great harm will come to me for. As a result, I will lose your love and destroy myself.”[footnoteRef:3] He is afraid that she doesn't love him and that when she finds out, he transforms into a werewolf every night she will leave him. Bisclarvet is correct in his assumption, and upon discovering his secret, she is frightened and disgusted. The ladies disdain for her lover and husband is strictly physical; she shows no sympathy for the man, her husband no less, who is cursed to walk the earth as a werewolf. Instead, she shows no concern for his well-being, or how being a werewolf effects Bisclarvet, but simply says that she does not want to "lie with him"[footnoteRef:4] anymore, another emphasis on physical attraction over true love. The wife who is now unsure of what to do hatches a plan to leave Bisclarvet. Immediately after learning how he shifts to and from beast form, she sends for a messenger to contact a knight that “had loved her for a long time, wooed her ardently and served her generously.”[footnoteRef:5] Knowing that she could manipulate this knight who has sworn to her into doing her bidding. An oath like this is an example of courtly love. A concept that would have been familiar to the people in the period as knights...