BI-sclavret

For my unessay, I chose to do a retelling of Bisclavret following the form of Judith Shoaf’s translation (the version we read for class). I have the same rhyming couplets, and I tried to keep the language and general tone as similar as possible to her translation. I wanted to explore the relationship between Bisclavret and the King more, and to make their affection more text than subtext. So – here it is! My reflection is at the end.

Here I recount the tale of Bisclavret
which hasn’t been told this way as yet:
the story of a lupine lord
and the noble King that he adored.
Bisclavret, the half-wolf, half-man,
was the King’s most loyal guardsman
and also his best hunting hound—
the best compatriot he had around.

The men, or rather, man and beast
were constant companions, to say the least,
and every week the loyal hound
hunted beside his King, abound.
The two of them were a skillful pair,
and needed no one else involved in the affair.
Bisclavret the gifted hunter tracked
and stalled the prey ‘til his King attacked
and rewarded his beloved beast
with scraps of meat: a joyous feast.
The two continued on this way,
their forest-meetings at break of day,
and Bisclavret left his King each night
overflowing with delight.

In this routine, there was a single snag
that made his tail droop from its usual wag
and left him dejected and depressed
as he returned to the abandoned chapel to dress.
His clothes returned him to his human form
and he made his way through the woods, forlorn.
He had a wife at home, she loved him so,
but she had no knowledge of his wolfishness, or his beau.
Though he had loved her at the altar,
his love, one day, began to falter
after hunting for years beside the King
and the fluttering feelings it began to bring.

One morn,’ his wife took note of the way
he returned from his disappearance, happy and gay,
and expressed herself, “Dear, for you I worry—”
and begged him, “Answer me please, and hurry!
For whom do you run away to see—
don’t tell me you’ve fallen out of love with me!”
He could only tell her half the reason,
though omitting some truth still felt like treason.
“Beloved friend,” he made his sorrowful plea,
“The truth may make you abandon me,
but when I take my leave I go
to a forest, where, when I remove my clothes—
I know this may be cause to fret,
but, my lady, I turn bisclavret.”

It broke his heart; he felt he’d cheated.
He cared for her, just not how she needed.
But his sympathy she did not deserve,
for her sorrow made a quick recurve,
she soon grew bitter and afraid
and started planning her escape.
She hid his clothes, her cunning plan
to keep him from returning to a man.
Once he was stuck, she left to find
a knight she used to leave behind
dismissively, and now proclaimed her love
to replace the beast she was now rid of.

She spun her tale of woe to the knight
who listened with the most delight.
“My dear,” she said, “the rumor’s true –
my husband’s left me, out of the blue,
and now I see what was meant to be:
husband and wife – you and me.”
The knight was overjoyed at this
and gave his wife-to-be a kiss.
After enough time had passed,
and long had Bisclavret been outcast,
the happy lady was remarried,
and no regret the couple carried.

Meanwhile, Bisclavret wandered the wood
looking for the clothes that could
return him to his human state
and reverse this unfortunate twist of fate.
Increasingly, the wolf felt lost
for no one’s path had he crossed.

But here does not the story end
for, finally, Bisclavret’s royal friend
stumbled across him in the woods one day
and the wolf approached him in dismay.
Though his loyal companion could not speak,
the King sensed that his mood was bleak,
and soon he came to understand
that Bisclavret was stuck unmanned.
The huntsmen, who’d not seen the wolf before
were stricken, truly, quite unmoored
at the King’s order: “Stand down!
I shall take this beast in as my own.”
But it did not take them long to see
that a kind and gentle friend was he;
through the kingdom he was well beloved,
his manner docile as a dove.
Bisclavret felt the dissipation
of his previous consternation
at his reunion with his loving King,
to whom he meant everything.
Always in the other’s company,
they spent their days in harmony,
and all in the kingdom did know
that those two loved each other so.

But then one day, at the King’s court
Bisclavret’s joy was cut short
when the knight who took his wife arrived—
that cruel woman, whom he now despised.
For shallow and unfair was she,
and their callousness made him angry.
He gave the offending knight a glare
as he made off toward the legionnaire
and lunged at his forearm
while the unwitting man yelped with alarm.
He pulled the knight onto the ground,
‘til stopping him swiftly came the sound
of the King, who urgently called him off,
and the knight got up with an anxious scoff.
“What beast is this?” He asked the King;
“How could you allow such a wretched thing
to accompany you in your castle?”
“Silence!” The King bode the vassal,
“Surely you have done some wrong
for in the time I’ve known him—long—
he never dared to hurt a soul!
What crime did ye—battered? Stole?”
The knight, in shock, denied it all,
still reeling from the close call.
“My Lord, I beg, I did no wrong!
Though I do believe your beast belongs
away from us all in a cage
if he cannot contain his rage.”
The King was truly quite confused
at why the knight had been abused,
but let it go for the time being
until Bisclavret attempted another beating.
In total, three times that night
did he attempt to harm the knight
and left the castle-dwellers perplexed
when they could not figure out the pretext.
The knight left early, naturally,
for terrified of the wolf was he.

Days later, the wolf and King went out
to go for a ride about
the forest where they went to hunt
and found lodgings when the day was done.
Along came Bisclavret’s former wife
not knowing the amount of strife
she would cause by visiting the King.
For when the woman came a-calling,
Bisclavret went straight for her nose
and in its place was left a hole.
All in the place were up in arms
‘til they were reminded of his usual charms.
“Clearly, something’s gone awry,
for this type of action does belie
this wolf’s true nature,” said one wise man.
“He’s usually not such a madman,
except to this lady and her new knight—
what reason is there for this spite?
I think this lady should be tried
with her new husband, so we can find
the reason for this stubborn grudge
on which our King will be the judge.”

The King agreed, and the lady and
knight went on trial at the King’s command,
until the truth of the matter came out
that the lady was guilty beyond all doubt.
“I betrayed my last husband,” she admitted,
“the only reason that I quitted
him was because he revealed to me
that he was a bisclavret—the one you now see.
When it turned out he was a frightful beast
I wanted nothing to do with him in the least,
so I hid his clothes, the secret to
his transformation, and then I flew
away from him, to my new love,
and that is all I have to tell of.”
The King demanded the clothes be found;
they were, and set on the ground
in front of Bisclavret, who gave a sniff,
and sat back, looking quite stiff.
The wise man, who spoke up before,
said, “I don’t think he’s trying to ignore
these clothes, he clearly is ashamed
at the way his kind have been portrayed.
He needs some time and privacy
to return to the man we know him to be.”
The King brought the wolf to his own chambers
to be hidden away from all the strangers
in the castle, giving him a place
where he could transform at his own pace.
When the time had come, the King returned,
and sure enough, the wolf had turned
back into the man the King had missed.
When they saw each other, they hugged and kissed,
and were inseparable again,
living out their days together to the end.

Meanwhile, the lady and her lord
were exiled from the kingdom on the King’s accord,
and all the lady’s daughters bore
the same affect their mother wore:

they’d all been born without a nose!
And here is where this tale draws close.


Reflection

small content warning for a mention of intimate partner violence & biphobia.

I was inspired by a few things to take this route – this whole idea really came from the stanza where Bisclavret returns home from one of his disappearances and is described by Shoaf as “happy and gay.” I lifted that line from her version and ran with it. My thought process was basically, “what if he’s actually with the king when he disappears and goes hunting? What if the king already knows him for who he truly is, and once Bisclavret is freed from his judgemental previous partner, they get to have a happy ending?” I was also inspired by Nic’s blog post about how minorities can take back the monstrous image projected onto their sexuality and turn it into a more positive story. Like, writing wholesome gay self-insert werewolf fiction (phew) is probably a pretty good outlet for some people to escape discrimination they may face in real life, and hey, more power to them!

While I didn’t exactly go that route, I did have a few things in mind as I wrote this. After thinking about the subtext of the poem, it hit me that this story follows a similar arc as when some people first realize they might not be straight – they tell their partner who they are, and while there’s the possibility of being rejected, most people can move on to be with someone who truly loves them. As someone who considers herself a proud bisexual, I particularly thought of the stigma around Bisexuality, and especially around being a bisexual man. Considering that bisexuals tend to have a higher risk of intimate partner violence compared to people of other sexualities, the dangers of being bi coming out are clearly very real, and I wanted to write something uplifting to combat the scary reality. (For more information on the difficulties bisexual men face, here are some links: 1, 2, 3. Content warning for biphobia, sexual abuse & assault, mentions of suicide, substance abuse, and mentions of unsafe sexual practices.)

Plus, bi men deserve more representation! Even in silly fantasy poems!!

I kind of read Bisclavret as bi in the poem because he certainly loves his wife before her judgement ends up tanking their relationship, and he also loves the king. I hoped emphasizing his distress about telling her who he is might imply bisexuality in my first draft, but I decided it was too important to risk being so subtle, so this final version has a few critical lines at the end of the third stanza making his sexuality more explicit. But essentially, I wanted to create a version of Bisclavret that demonstrates a positive outlook for people in the tough situation of having to come out to their partner, and for bi men specifically. It’s so, so important to me that we have diverse representations of ourselves in all kinds of literature! So while it may seem silly, I thought it was really fun and exciting to work on this bi werewolf poem!! :^)

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