The Owl and the Nightingale Criticism - Essay

J. W. H. Atkins (essay date 1922)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Atkins, J. W. H. Introduction to The Owl and the Nightingale, edited by J. W. H. Atkins, pp. xi-xc. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922.

[In the following excerpt, Atkins surveys the form, structure, and themes of The Owl and the Nightingale, appraising its effectiveness as allegorical verse and summarizing its outstanding stylistic features.]

THE FORM OF THE POEM

The type of literature to which The Owl and the Nightingale belongs, namely, the debate, was one which was specially characteristic of the 12th and early 13th centuries. Together with the Chansons de geste, the fabliaux and the Provençal...

(The entire section is 14297 words.)

R. M. Lumiansky (essay date October 1953)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lumiansky, R. M. “Concerning The Owl and the Nightingale.Philological Quarterly 32, no. 4 (October 1953): 411-17.

[In the following essay, Lumiansky argues that the author of The Owl and the Nightingale was Nicholas of Guildford, who probably crafted the poem to showcase his talents and secure preferment as a judge.]

In his 1907 edition of The Owl and the Nightingale, John Edwin Wells observed that this poem had “received much less attention than it merits.” Wilhelm Horn in 1925, reviewing Atkins' edition of the poem, took occasion to mention the imminent appearance of two more editions of the same piece, and maintained with...

(The entire section is 2937 words.)

John Gardner (essay date winter 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Gardner, John. “The Owl and the Nightingale: A Burlesque.” Papers on Language and Literature 2, no. 1 (winter 1966): 3-12.

[In the following essay, Gardner views The Owl and the Nightingale as principally a comic, rather than an allegorical, poem that depicts a fundamental desire on the part of its main figures to win their debate rather than to discover truth.]

Though few critics would deny that The Owl and the Nightingale has comic passages, no one has pointed out in print that the whole poem is a comic burlesque, didactic only insofar as comedy is intrinsically didactic.1 It is of course hard to talk about humor: one is...

(The entire section is 4241 words.)

Joan Carson (essay date 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Carson, Joan. “Rhetorical Structure in The Owl and the Nightingale.Speculum 42 (1967): 92-103.

[In the following essay, Carson evaluates The Owl and the Nightingale as an example of deliberative oratory designed to emphasize the intellectual and rhetorical merits of its presumed author, Nicholas of Guildford.]

The various interpretations of the debate in The Owl and the Nightingale have given rise to more differences of opinion than exist between the protagonists of the poem. Comment has been voiced with more accord, however, upon the question of the poem's being a plea for preferment for Nicholas of Guildford. On the basis of “the...

(The entire section is 6026 words.)

Constance B. Hieatt (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hieatt, Constance B. “The Subject of the Mock-Debate between the Owl and the Nightingale.” Studia Neophilologica 40 (1968): 155-60.

[In the following essay, Hieatt describes The Owl and the Nightingale as a “gentle satire” on a broad range of subjects both serious and mundane, suggesting that the work avoids any specific conclusions in order to remain a light, humorous parody of lively debate.]

The meaning of The Owl and the Nightingale is a subject on which many critics have voiced opinions, but on which no two appear to agree. Wells felt that it is “beneath all didactic”,1 and, while he was not entirely clear as to what it...

(The entire section is 2125 words.)

Richard E. Allen (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Richard E. “The Voices of The Owl and the Nightingale.” In Studies in Medieval Culture III, edited by John R. Sommerfeldt, pp. 52-58. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1970.

[In the following essay, Allen discusses the The Owl and the Nightingale in terms of aesthetic differences between the songs of the two birds and their personification of the tension between progressive and traditional artistic forms.]

The anonymous debate of about the year 1200 called The Owl and the Nightingale is a remarkable poem, and not the least remarkable thing about it is the fact that although everyone who has dealt with the poem seems to...

(The entire section is 3570 words.)

Kathryn Hume (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hume, Kathryn. “Intellectual and Religious Interpretations” and “Historical and Political Interpretations.” In The Owl and the Nightingale: The Poem and Its Critics, pp. 51-83. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975.

[In the following essays, Hume presents evidence to refute any purely allegorical interpretation of The Owl and the Nightingale, whether it be intellectual, religious, historical, or political.]

INTELLECTUAL AND RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS

What is The Owl and the Nightingale really about? In 1948 Albert C. Baugh denied that the poem was ‘anything more than a lively altercation between two...

(The entire section is 12506 words.)

Constance B. Hieatt (essay date fall 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hieatt, Constance B. “A Full Length Study of The Owl and the Nightingale.Mosaic 10, no. 1 (fall 1976): 147-50.

[In the following essay, Hieatt reviews Kathryn Hume's The Owl and the Nightingale: The Poem and Its Critics, praising this work as a systematic updating of contemporary scholarly debate on the poem.]

That Kathryn Hume's book on The Owl and the Nightingale1 is the first full length study of the poem may come as a surprise to two rather different groups, those who wonder why anyone would bother to write a book about a work from such an early period in our literature that it is likely to attract only a few advanced...

(The entire section is 1652 words.)

Judith Perryman (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Perryman, Judith. “Lore, Life, and Logic in The Owl and the Nightingale.Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters 14, no. 2 (1984): 97-109.

[In the following essay, Perryman explores the debate in The Owl and the Nightingale by focusing on the traditional characteristics associated with these birds, their respective methods of argumentation, and the poem's overall concern with contention, arbitration, and judgment.]

The early thirteenth-century Middle English work The Owl and the Nightingale, the first of a number of bird debates in English, is an outstanding and interesting poem, none the less because there has been so much...

(The entire section is 5009 words.)

J. Eadie (essay date December 1986)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Eadie, J. “The Authorship of The Owl and the Nightingale: A Reappraisal.” English Studies 67, no. 6 (December 1986): 471-77.

[In the following essay, Eadie suggests that The Owl and the Nightingale may have been written by a woman and that the poem is mainly concerned with love and the theme of separated lovers.]

It seems today to be fairly generally accepted that the interesting early Middle English poem, The Owl and the Nightingale, was written by one Nicholas of Guildford, and that his objective in writing the poem was to impress his ecclesiastical superiors with his worth and so gain preferment in the Church.1 Among...

(The entire section is 3667 words.)

Françoise Le Saux (essay date October-December 1987)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Le Saux, Françoise. “Song and Harmony in The Owl and the Nightingale.Etudes de Lettres 4 (October-December 1987): 3-9.

[In the following essay, Le Saux maintains that The Owl and the Nightingale offers “a lesson on the nature of harmony and love” rather than a depiction of “discord and contentiousness.”]

The theme of song is at the heart of the Middle English debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale. It is the main cause for contention between the two birds, and the poet explicitly states that song is the principal issue of the debate:

& hure & hure of othere[s] songe
Hi holde plaiding suthe...

(The entire section is 2598 words.)

R. Barton Palmer (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Palmer, R. Barton. “The Narrator in The Owl and the Nightingale: A Reader in the Text.” Chaucer Review 22, no. 4 (1988): 305-21.

[In the following essay, Palmer analyzes the function of the narrator in The Owl and the Nightingale, examining how the poem eludes interpretation.]

The appearance of Kathryn Hume's full-length study of the difficulties of interpretation posed by the Middle English Owl and the Nightingale has effectively silenced what had been, for the last three decades or so, a lively (if chaotic) debate over the meaning of the poem. Since Hume's persuasive debunking of a wide variety of previous hermeneutic claims in 1975,...

(The entire section is 6734 words.)

Monica Brzezinski Potkay (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Potkay, Monica Brzezinski. “Natural Law in The Owl and the Nightingale.The Chaucer Review 28, no. 4 (1994): 368-83.

[Suggests that “the legal system which grounds the arguments of the Owl and the Nightingale is a theoretical one, that of natural law."]

The Owl and the Nightingale, as enigmatic as it is amusing, has occasioned disagreements among its readers almost as lively as the squabbles between the two birds. A chief point of contention concerns the poem's relation to contemporary legal practice. For the birds employ a legal vocabulary, plead in alternating speeches as was the practice in medieval law courts, construct their arguments...

(The entire section is 7514 words.)

Alan J. Fletcher (essay date 1999)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Fletcher, Alan J. “The Genesis of The Owl and the Nightingale.The Chaucer Review, 34, no. 1 (1999): 1-17.

[In the following essay, Fletcher proposes a new theory regarding the date, place, and authorship of The Owl and the Nightingale.]

To the cannibalizing of books there is no end. This is so self-evidently true that it needs no extensive demonstration here, but one particular instance, which concerns either the early Middle English poem of The Owl and the Nightingale, or its congener, has generally eluded critical notice, and thus deserves some attention.

No one knows exactly when The Owl and the Nightingale was...

(The entire section is 8811 words.)