The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Hirsh, John C. "Classical Tradition and The Owl and the Nightingale." 9 (1974): 145-52.
Writers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Pythagoras, Plato, and Ambrose connect jackdaws to owls when presenting metempsychosis. As the owl only flies at night and was supposedly ashamed of this fact, the owl offers some comic possibilities.
Olsson, Kurt. "Character and Truth in The Owl and the Nightingale." 11 (1977): 351-68.
By the twelfth century birds represent both the human mind and pride. The poem follows the traditional debate form in which both speakers seek winning, not necessarily truth. Although the owl presents herself as a Christ figure, her words and behavior toward the nightingale undermine this pose. The nightingale pictures herself as the singer of salvific song, but the fact that she refuses to go into the wastelands casts doubt on her saving purpose. Though the debate between the two quickly declines into the sensual, the two birds present language with its abilities to affect people and to create hope or sorrow. The end of the poem ironically overturns the traditional model in which an unresolvable debate is concluded by an appeal to authorities. Because there are no authorities to whom the birds can turn, the debate is settled by a show of force; the small birds join the nightingale. Both birds are, however, guilty of pride in their interpretation of truth.
Palmer, R. Barton. "The Narrator in The Owl and the Nightingale: A Reader in the Text." 22 (1988): 305-21.
The Owl and the Nightingale examines how texts and readers labor together to create meanings, though in this case the meanings may be functions of a refusal on the poet's part finally to resolve the disparate elements in the plot. The "discursive structures" of the Owl and the Nightingale "aim at an interrogation rather than a declaration of 'meaning'" (307). Other medieval poems play on this dichotomy, including Isopet. The narrator of the Owl and the Nightingale functions as one who experiences a fabulous experience and reports it, all the while reminding his listeners that the encounter he reports is impossible. One of the narrator's roles is to propel readers from the realm of animal imagery to the realm of application.
Potkay, Monica Brzezinski. "Natural Law in The Owl and the Nightingale." 28 (1994): 368-83.
In the Owl and the Nightingale the legal system that the birds use is natural law, not ecclesiastical or court law. Natural law, however, is never explicitly defined in the poem. In fact the poet raises questions about natural law at the center of twelfth- and thirteenth-century debates. The greatest difficulty with natural law is succinctly expressed in the Summa of Stephen of Tournai, who posited that at times humans followed animal example while at others they rejected that example as irrational. The Owl and the Nightingale engages this discussion to respond that the same natural law does not govern all creatures, and that humans would do best to follow the dictates of reason. The debate between the owl and the nightingale concerning sexuality addresses the locus of concern over what natural law, if any, controls humans. The discussion of marriage implies that love is the common element between humans and animals since marriage is a uniquely human custom. Finally the debate between the birds is resolved by reason and a hierarchy that clearly follows a human model.
Reed, Thomas L., Jr. "'Bo[th]e blysse and blunder': Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Debate Tradition." 23 (1988): 140-61.
The Pearl-Poet built Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on a dialogic structure that suggests the poem's affinities with the debate tradition. That the poet does not reach any real conclusions does not disqualify the poem as a debate, since many debate poems do not reach resolution. The poet presents events from many angles. Gawain's use of various magical defensive devices suggests a dialogue between chivalry and Christianity. Given sources and analogues like the Owl and the Nightingale, Winner and Waster, the "Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie," the Parliament of the Three Ages, and Ressoning betuix Age and Yowth, readers may see the poem as a series of arguments between youth and age, spring and winter, life and death. Gawain's experience with Lady Bercilak brings to mind the débat amoreux. Gawain is also tried in verbal argument. Other poems grouped with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Patience, show similar debate structures. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is most likely a kind of recreation, as demonstrated by the Christmas games of Arthur's court.
Witt, Michael A. "The Owl and The Nightingale and English Law Court Procedure of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries." 16 (1982): 282-92.
Scholars must reconsider the idea that the Owl and the Nightingale is based on legal procedure in light of the inconsistent use of legal language.