Ideas of Courtly Love and Aggression in “Bisclavret”

Throughout literary history, the idea of gender has been explored. Women are either pictured as angelic or as seductive creatures that use their femininity for evil against men. Men, on the other hand, are depicted as either the doting courtier or the dominating aggressor. Most works do not depict both sides of the human psyche. Marie De France’s, “Bisclavret”, however, does just that. In Bisclavret, France explores the motives behind both sides of the male psyche and shows how they can exist within one creature.

The idea of courtly love within literature usually depicts a courtier vying for the affections of a woman in hopes of it one-day ending in marriage. Some of the behaviors of this archetype are depicted by the man placing the woman on a pedestal, being loving in their words, and being protective of their lady. Bisclavret, though married, depicts these characteristics in the opening stanzas of the work. An example of this is seen in lines 37- 41, “(France p.18-19) When he had heard this he drew her close to him, clasped and kissed her. “Lady,” he said, “Come, ask away! Nothing you wish, dear, certainly I will not tell you, that I know”.” He is terrified of his wife seeing him in a negative light and pleads with her to allow him to keep this side hidden. This side of Bisclavret is motivated by the love and the adoration he feels for his wife. However, this is not the only side depicted.

The betrayal of Bisclavret’s wife, introduces the reader to a different side of him. He is no longer depicted as the doting husband, there are no longer kinds words or actions towards her. Instead, one sees a new side a Bisclavret. He is now aggressive and violent natured in regards to his wife. In regards to the King and his men, however, he is subserviant and humble. One does not see him using violence towards these men, instead in lines 145-148, “His eye distinguishing, could see the king; to beg his clemency he seized the royal stirrup, put a kiss upon the leg and foot.”(France p.21). France uses this depiction of Bisclavret as a means of juxtopostition when compared to his response to seeing his wife. Without this, the reader might infer that the change in behavior was not in response to his wife’s betrayal but to his change to an animalistic state.

In conclusion, France explores the ideas of gender and the literary stereotypes thereof in “Bisclavret”. She uses depictions of motive to explain how more than one idea of gender can be seen within the same character. These motives are then displayed through the use of juxtaposition between Bisclavret’s behavior around his wife vs. his behavior around the King and his men.


France, Marie De. “Bisclavret”. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. 3rd. Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2007. 18-24. Print. 





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