The Werewolf’s Rational Soul in the Medieval Romance


When one thinks of the medieval werewolf, an image of a bloodthirsty, savage killer comes to mind. In the medieval romance, however, the werewolf was portrayed as a benign character capable of rational thought. Curtis Runstedler reassesses the role of the werewolf arguing for its use as metaphor for the faults and corruption of society.

The medieval werewolf was often condemned and stigmatised in the clerical and folkloric tradition of the time, interpreted as a bloodthirsty, savage killer or a demonic, monstrous entity. The werewolf of the medieval romance, however, revises these views, portraying the werewolf as a benign, sympathetic character demonstrating rational thought. In this lecture, I Curtis traces the history of the werewolf and the wolf in classical texts to show their influence upon the medieval werewolf. Furthermore, the lecture examines medieval philosophical ideas relevant to the topic, specifically Augustine and Thomas Aquinas’s thoughts about the rational soul defining humanness. From there, Curtis analyses the werewolf’s role as metaphor in Marie de France’s lai Bisclavret and the Middle English poem William of Palerne. He articulates the werewolf as metaphor for exploring the faults and corruption in society. He argues that Bisclavret the werewolf, whom society confines to the wilderness, retains his human aspects through his rational soul, and through his bond with the king redeems himself in society. Alphouns, the werewolf in William of Palerne, also returns to society through his bond with royal William. His rational soul enables him to maintain his human identity despite his bodily transformation. These examples illustrate the metaphorical use of these supernatural figures and their implications for transformation in the medieval romance.

This lecture was recorded as part of Easter Lectures Day 2015, when postgraduate researchers delivered fresh insights into key undergraduate exam topics. Easter Lectures Day was organised by Dr Simon Grimble.

Curtis has recently run a series of posts and tweets about werewolves on READ. Check out all his hauntingly interesting posts here.

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