By Caitlin B. Giacopasi
Master’s Thesis, Seton Hall University, 2011
Introduction: The werewolf would have been universally acknowledged as “queer” during its reign of terror over the medieval mind: that is, as an unusual, unfamiliar, and ambiguous creature that does not conform to the laws of beasts or men. Relegated to the lirninal space between man and beast, the werewolf’s awkward condition was instinctively repulsive to civilized humanity on principle alone; it was also uncomfortably appealing on a primal, individual level, thus ensuring its inclusion in oral tradition and popular literature. The wolfinan was fear, and it was also fantasy. Werewolf texts fiom the Middle Ages — namely, the early thirteenth-century romance, William of Palerne, and Marie de France’s early twelfth-century lay, “Bisclavret” — suggest that the curse of fur might, after all, be a blessing to the individual dissatisfied with his or her place in society. Beyond the restrictions of humanity, the werewolf could publicly act and desire in ways which the average man could only dream.
When an individual’s species is in constant flux, how can its representations of gender or sexuality possibly remain static? Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s classic definition of “queer” also holds true for the medieval werewolf; in fact, abstract “queemess,” in terms of gender and sexuality, is made physical through the werewolf s hybrid body. Sedgwick explains that “when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can P be made) to signify monolithically”, “queer” can signify instead. The transgendered female also particularly struggles against implicit notions of sexuality and identity; she and the werewolf undergo similar treatment in the medieval texts which results in their transformations. The transvestite narratives of Silence and “Yde et Olive” present more obviously queer figures whose queemess persists in their equivalents today. Modem narratives which revolve around transvestitism, such as Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993) and Sarah Waters’ Epping the Velvet (2000), also follow females’ struggles against the prevailing monoliths of gender and sexuality. For the modem werewolf, however, Sedgwick’s words simply no longer apply. The werewolf, along with a score of other formerly horrific and fantastic creatures, can no longer be considered queer; its hybridity has somehow been made to signify monolithically. Popular culture has finally domesticated the werewolf in the best and most complete way it knows how: by crudely shaping it according to the standards of heteronormativity. The werewolf myth now lacks both the pathos and terror which once made it so compelling. Medieval werewolf curses are only temporary, but their subversive effects are lasting. Modem culture has finally accepted the werewolf as an equal entitled to the possession of a transformative body, but it has also provided rules which must be abided in order to maintain that status.