Sconduto (2008 Congress)

Leslie A. Sconduto
(Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois)
“The Werewolf’s Gaping Mouth:  The Motif of the goule baee in Guillaume de Palerne

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 43rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 2008)
Session on “Bark at the Rune:  Transforming the Medieval Werewolf”
Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Jeff Massey

2008 Congress

Guillaume de Palerne is a remarkable roman d’aventure that tells the story of a young prince of Sicily who is kidnapped by a werewolf at the age of four.  Woven into the story of the eponymous hero is the parallel story of Alphonse, the Spanish prince who was transformed into a werewolf by his stepmother when he was still a toddler.  This romance not only participates in the same tradition as Bisclavret, Melion, and Arthur and Gorlagon, but also provides the fullest treatment of the Werewolf’s Tale and represents an important reworking of its traditional motifs.  Indeed, with Alphonse we see that the werewolf has undergone a total metamorphosis; no vestige remains of the bloodthirsty beast.  One of the motifs contributing to his portrayal, one that is unique to Guillaume de Palerne, is the motif of his goule baee, his gaping mouth.

Through close readings, I demonstrate how the poet uses this motif to draw attention to the romance’s theme of illusory appearance, serve a narrative function by announcing that the werewolf is about to attack, develop the image of the werewolf as a knight while at the same time insisting on his bestiality, and underscore Alphonse’s limitations:  although his mouth is open, he cannot speak.  Finally, I conclude that the werewolf’s empty gaping mouth signifies the absence of cannibalized flesh.  According to Geraldine Heng, the giant in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia allows cannibalism to be displaced into romance where it can be safely discussed.  The werewolf in Guillaume de Palerne goes one step further and accomplishes something that Geoffrey’s giant does not; it entirely erases the notion of cannibalism and redeems the image of the Christian knight.