Marie de France’s Bisclavret: What the Werewolf Will and Will Not Wear

  • Gloria Thomas Gilmore
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter will examine the role that textiles, here specifically clothing, play in the spinning out, and tangling up, of the Lais of Marie de France.1 Within the texts of these love stories, the Nightingales shroud, as well as Fresne’s baby quilt clearly function as subtexts, as “écriture féminine,” or women’s writing, because textile work has been the primary responsibility of women for millennia.2 In these stories, textiles are deciphered by characters and readers alike. An examination of all references to textiles reveals that many of them comment on the theme of subject formation, as do Hanning and Ferrante in the introduction to their modern English translation to the Lais. They identify as

one of the themes explored in 12th century courtly narrative … the individual’s recognition of a need for self-fulfillment and his or her struggle for the freedom to satisfy that need. The tension between the personal quest … and one’s social obligations was a recurring theme of courtly literature …


Wild Beast Human Form Proper Noun Love Story Possessive Noun 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Mane de France wrote somewhere in England and/or the north of France, presumably for the English court of Henry II (r. 1154–1189). We believe her to be a woman primarily on the basis of the feminine name she uses to introduce her work: “Oëz, seignurs, ke dit Marie [Listen, my lords, to what Marie says]” (author’s translation) (Guigemar line 3). [Marie de France, The Lais of Marie de France (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1982)]. Sometime between 1160 and 1178 she composed 12 “lais,” or short, perhaps originally sung “ditties” that each narrate a romantic tale. The Old French Lais, which, with her translation of King Alfred’s English version of Aesop’s Fables, comprise her major claim to fame, draw on Celtic legends of heroism. Because of their extreme brevity, averaging 478 lines, the Lais invite close scrutiny of detail.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Women’s Work The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    “‘The power elicited by the rite of homage is born out of the extremely intimate nature of the physical contact of the unequal participants…The sense of touch, around which homage is centered, is the most sensitive form of personal communication” (Gloria Thomas Gilmore, “Conflicting Codes of Conduct: Marie de France’s Equitan,” Utah Foreign Language Review 2 (1990): 102.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gloria Thomas Gilmore

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