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362 Study Questions: Marie De France, "Bisclavret"

Vocabulary: lai, Norman, Norman conquest, Breton courtly love, fairy tale, wish fulfillment, H-manuscript, geis, folklore motif, octosyllabic couplets, fin amour, feudalism, courtly love, knight, chivalry, rash boon

Identifications: Bisclavret, Bisclavret's wife, the King of Brittany, the noseless daughters

Lecture Notes: none

Introduction Questions: none

Reading Questions:

  • What, according to Marie, is the Norman title for the Breton lai, "Bisclavret"?
  • What disturbs Bisclavret's wife about her husband's behavior each week? (I.e., what does her husband do that arouses her suspicions?)
  • What secret has Bisclavret been hiding from his wife? Why has he been afraid to tell her?
  • What will happen to Bisclavret if he loses his human clothes while he is in wolf-shape?
  • Where does Bisclavret hide his clothes?
  • What does Bisclavret's wife offer to a neighboring knight that she had refused him previously?
  • A year passes, and then Bisclavret ends up being hunted in the forest. How does he avoid being torn apart by the hunting dogs?
  • How does Bisclavret behave when the knight who is his wife's lover shows up at the king's court?
  • What does Bisclavret do to his wife when she appears at court?
  • How does the King of Brittany extract the truth from the false knight and Bisclavret's unfaithful wife?
  • Why does Bisclavret hesitate to turn back into human shape--and what change in location allows him to transform peacefully? What does this hesitancy reveal about Bisclavret and what he has learned?
  • What happens to later generations of the unfaithful wife's children? (I.e., what unusual birth mark or deformity do they have?)


A. Lady, I become a werewolf. I enter the vast forest and live in the deepest part of the wood where I feed off the prey I can capture. . . . I go about completely naked. . . . For if I lost [my clothes] and were discovered in that state, I should remain a werewolf forever. No one would be able to help me until they were returned to me."

B: "Lady," he said, "beside the wood, near the path I follow, stands an old chapel which often serves me well. There beneath a bush is a broad stone, hollowed out in the centre, in which I put my clothes until I return home."

C. The lady heard this remarkable revelation and her face became flushed with fear. She was greatly alarmed by the story, and began to consider various means of parting from him, as she no longer wished to lie with him. She sent a messenger to summon a knight who lived in the region and who had loved for a long time, wooed her ardently, and served her generously. She had never loved him or promised him her affection but now she told him what was on her mind.

C. [He] caught sight of the knight and sped toward him, sinking his teeth into him and dragging him own toward him. He would have done the knight serious harm if the king had not called him and threatened him with a stick. [His] wife learned of this, and, dressing herself elegantly, went the next day to speak to the king, taking an expensive present for him. When he saw her approach, no one could restrain him. He dashed toward her like a madman. Just hear how successfully he took his revenge. He tore the nose right off her face.

D. "Lord, you are not acting properly: nothing would induce him to put on his clothing in front of you or change his animal form. You do not realize the importance of this; it is most humiliating for him. Take him into your bedchamber and bring him the clothes. Let us leave him there for a while and we shall soon see if he turns into a a man." The king himself led the way and closed all the doors on the wolf.

E. She had a good many children who were thereafter recognizable by their appearance. Many of the women in the family, I tell you truly, were born without noses and lived noseless.


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