“Dites le mei, si ferez bien”: Fallen Language and Animal Communication in Bisclavret
Many medieval writers identified language as that faculty which separated humans from the rest of God’s creation. Yet human language can be unreliable, subject to interpretive difficulties and used to obscure or distort truth rather than to convey it transparently. Marie de France highlights the problem of language in her twelfth-century lai Bisclavret, in which a treacherous wife uses verbal blandishments to trap her werewolf husband in canine form. Paradoxically, the possession of reason, with the concomitant ability to signify, also produces our capacity to deceive and be deceived through language. Bisclavret’s mute canine communicative strategies are revealed as better mediators of truth than human verbal language, calling into question its status as the privileged form of communication.