The (fe)male shifts shame : androgyny and transformation in Marie de France, Gerald of Wales, and the Volsungasaga
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Transformation is inherently entwined with the transgression of borders; for male shifters, there is an acquittance of this transhuman breach, but not so for female shifters. Gerald of Wale's History and Topography of Ireland depicts two werewolves: the male's shapeshifting is all but disregarded, while the female's own transformation is depicted in detail and effectively shames her into silence. In addition, the Volsungasaga also contains werewolves: Sigmund and Sinfjotli don wolfskins, but soon regret their transformations. However, neither is shamed for the shapeshifting, and indeed, Sinfjotli successfully twists the experience to his advantage. The female werewolf, King Siggeir's mother, however, is killed and her identity as a "foul" witch exposed. There are also the human-to-human transformations of Signy/a witch and Sigurd/Gunnar. Signy expresses shame for the incident; Sigurd and Gunnar's plot is revealed, but neither is condemned: the tale passes over the shapeshifting in favor of the narrative drama. Furthermore, Marie de France's Bisclavret perpetuates the same pattern: the male werewolf is praised and exonerated for his transhuman nature while the wife's pseudo-shapeshifting is met with condemnation and shame. However, Marie de France's Yonec attempts to break this pattern, with the shapeshifter Muldumarec transgressing not only the animal/human binary but that of the male/female. His androgyny is conferred onto his beloved, who also undergoes transformations but is spared the shaming consequences via Muldumarec. While this sharing of androgyny breaks the pattern and keeps the beloved from condemnation, it ultimately fails in breaking the patriarchal underpinnings of the pattern itself.