Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf ©1996
Since I'm making lais, Bisclavret
Is one I don't want to forget.
In Breton, "Bisclavret"'s the name;
"Garwolf" in Norman means the same.
Long ago you heard the tale told--
And it used to happen, in days of old--
Quite a few men became garwolves,
And set up housekeeping in the woods.
A garwolf is a savage beast,
While the fury's on it, at least:
Eats men, wreaks evil, does no good,
Living and roaming in the deep wood.
Now I'll leave this topic set.
I want to tell you about Bisclavret.
In Brittany there dwelt a lord;
Wondrous praise of him I've heard:
A handsome knight, an able man,
He was, and acted like, a noble man.
His lord the King held him dear,
And so did his neighbors far and near.
He'd married a worthy woman, truly;
Always she acted so beautifully.
He loved her, she him: they loved each other.
But one thing was a bother:
Every week he was lost to her
In the introduction, Marie juxtaposes, but distinguishes, the historical action recorded by songs (the
activities of real werewolves) and the action of making the songs or stories. Compare the beginning of
Equitan, which seems to be going to tell us how noble the deeds of the Bretons were, but ends up praising
their lais rather than their actions. In introducing Bisclavret, Marie is, again, seriously teasing the reader:
what terrible beasts these garwolves were! Cruel, wild man-eaters.
.. who then can blame the wife in the
story for not wanting to sleep with her husband? Yet Marie lightly dissociates the garwolf myth from her
own tale ("now I will drop this matter, because I want to tell you the story of Bisclavret"). As the story
continues, the reader is forced to contrast the wife's rejection of her husband for his beastliness with the
king's admiration of the same creature for his humanity. The horror the garwolf arouses in the introduction
turns out to be irrelevant to this tale, in which the real horror is the woman who betrays the man she has