The Middle English poem The Owl and the Nightingale famously records the dispute between a hostile Nightingale and a bellicose Owl. Within that dialogue the birds reproduce themselves in word and egg, in rhetoric and body. Their digressions on bodies and scatology and on childbearing and childrearing become fertilizer that expands maternal authority into public, intellectual discourse. In addition to calling forth their own communicative powers, both characters aggressively recount narratives best known from the work of Marie de France, a voice feminist scholars have successfully restored to the canon, to condemn their foe. In this light, I argue, The Owl and the Nightingale encourages feminist labor when it recounts a woman’s writing without acknowledging her authorship and material feminist analysis when it puts such an artful dispute in the voices of vividly embodied avian mothers.
My thanks are due to Carolynn Van Dyke and Angela Bennett, both of whom organized Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship panels at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, where I was able to share early versions of this argument.
The Owl and the Nightingale, Marie de France, reproduction, performance, dialectic
Copyright © 2018 Wendy A. Matlock
Matlock, Wendy A. "Belligerent Mothers and the Power of Feminine Speech in _The Owl and the Nightingale_." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 54, No. 1 (2018) : 79-93.