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How do you make a werewolf? Moreover, who makes a werewolf, and why? In medieval romance, the latter questions are often the more pressing, since the transformation of man into wolf is connected less with lunar phases than with human interference—especially the intervention of an unfaithful wife. Following in the pawprints of Marie de France’s lai of Bisclavret, these romances are noted for their “courtly” wolves and antifeminist slant, but they also offer unusual perspectives on procreation. While in Aristotelian thought the generative principle was broadly associated with the male partner, the male werewolf of medieval romance is most often brought into the world through the action and agency of a female character. In this unorthodox form of generation, the male character is not active but rather acted upon (and thereby potentially feminized), while the more proactive character tends to be a women. In several narratives, a wife exploits natural or magical lycanthropy as a means of hiding her husband in order to pursue an affair, counting on her husband’s involuntary lupine disguise to conceal both her adultery and the illegitimacy of any children she bears. By foregrounding the generative capability of female characters, these tales reveal concerns about women who have power over men’s bodies and over succession in families. The remedy in both cases is that the restoration of the werewolf is brought about by the king himself, who transforms the unruly flesh, restores social order, and reimposes gendered reproductive norms. This article explores how five werewolf romances are informed by and engage with medieval anxieties about gender and natural generation on the one hand, and legitimacy and lineage on the other.


I am immensely grateful to the editors of this issue for their generous feedback, and to Laura Crombie, Diane Heath, and Kathleen Walker-Meikle for reading several versions of this paper.


generation, infidelity, Marie de France, romance, werewolves