Marie de France takes great pains to tell us immediately that he is not one of those savage beasts who eat men.
At this time in medieval Europe, while there are some positive versions of lycanthropy , there are uses of the werewolf trope in literature as a punishment for a misdeed or sin—think, perhaps, of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. In the Early Modern period, werewolves were associated with witches. All in all, being a werewolf was not just bad news, but could be an indicator that you were a bad person. The very things she was conditioned to fear have become, in her mind, a reality.
That Bisclavret is not an abusive husband is not the point. The wife has heard the stories. She knows abusive relationships. And she is convinced that she is in one—or about to be. These circumstances are what fuel her actions. So, we are left with a very difficult question: what is ethical for a victim of domestic violence to do in order to escape their abuser? This question appears over and over again in the lives of abuse victims.
It spurred the WhyIStayed hashtag in This movement endeavored to combat the all-too-popular belief that, if a woman stays with a man, then she must not be truly abused.
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Among these are:. The idea that these women feel they have nowhere to go is particularly poignant for women like the wives in Yonec and Bisclavret. In Yonec , the wife, locked as she is in her tower, does not attempt to leave until her lover is mortally wounded. When this happens, she jumps out the window to follow his trail of blood back to his own kingdom.
She even curses them for doing so. So where would she go? That the wife attempts it at all is testament to her fright, grief, and bravery. She turns to the one support she feels she has, a neighboring knight who had often professed his love for her. Marie is clear:. There is no question: this is an act of betrayal. Bisclavret does not deserve this. But, it is what she clearly felt she needed to do to prevent the abuse she saw in the future. If her fears had proven true, would we blame her?
Marie de France asks us to consider what might happen in a situation where a woman, dreading the possibility that her husband would abuse her, believes that fear has come true. Her heightened anxiety at the beginning of the story leads to actual violence against her at the end. Yes, she does seek to imprison a good man. There is incredible danger in living in a culture that permits and even promotes violence, abuse, and rape. Being victimized is obviously traumatic. But there is an additional trauma too. There is further trauma for women, medieval and modern, in knowing that the chances of becoming a statistic are mind-blowingly high.
Telling and reading the stories helps to keep the wolves at bay. National Domestic Violence Hotline. National Coalition against Domestic Violence.
Domestic Violence In Medieval Texts Salisbury Eve Donavin Georgiana Llewelyn Price Merrall
National Sexual Assault Hotline. National Organization for Victim Assistance. Rose, Christine, and Elizabeth Robertson, eds. Palgrave Macmillan, Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts. University Press of Florida, Skinner, Patricia. Living with Disfigurement in Early Medieval Europe. The Public Medievalcast. Cart Checkout. Gender, Sexism, and the Middle Ages. Werewolves as a Metaphor for Domestic Abusers. Why is there so much spousal abuse in medieval literature? Huntington Library, mssEL 26 C 9, f. The Cycle of Abuse, chart by Avanduyn.
F 29, fol. Unpacking Abuse Imagine, for a moment, a medieval woman who grew up in the nobility. Her reaction is intense: The lady heard this marvel, this wonder. In terror she blushed all bright red, Filled with fear by this adventure. An illustration from Topographia Hiberniae depicting the story of a traveling priest who meets and communes a pair of good werewolves from the kingdom of Ossory, Ireland.
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