Where did Chaucer’s animals come from? • Chaucer’s use of animals is faithful to tradition. • Chaucer seems to hold the Boethian view of animals: animals almost exclusively represented the most reprehensible traits of mankind. (Rowland) • Animals are types illustrative of humanity. • Most of Chaucer’s animals derived from textual sources, not first-hand experience.
Would Chaucer have enjoyed camping? • Some critics have accused Chaucer of being ignorant about (and having little compassion for) the natural world . • primary concern: man’s psychological state in environment, secondary concern: the environment itself • The book of nature could reveal eternal truths for those who could “read” the religious-allegorical code. (Honegger)
Would anyone be surprised by animal talk? • Chaucer’s source for talking animals: the apocryphal “Book of Jubilees” • There are 2 examples of talking animals in the Bible: the serpent and Balaam’s ass. • Robert Grosseteste wrote in one of his Dicta that all created things are mirrors which reflect the Creator. • The medieval world “was understood to be physically ordered, all of a piece, its cosmology coherent and consonant with its theology” (Coldewey 93)
Where could I find animal references? • In the Physiologus, which described the properties (natura) and allegorical meanings (significatio) of animals. • In practical textbooks & scientific classifications. • In expanded (more secular) version of the Physiologus: the bestiary. • In the beast fable. • In the beast epic, which focused more on narrative, less on didacticism.
Could animals shape society? • Appearing in preacher’s handbooks and sermons: exempla beast fables (starting in the 12th century). • Peasants were often linked to animals for 2 (very different) reasons: to convey amused contempt, and to denounce the injustices they suffered. (Freedman) • Peasants were depicted both as wild and as domesticated animals. • 1348 (Black Death)-1525 (German Peasant’s War): the bestial vocabulary intensifies and polarizes.
How did society shape the world of animals? • Throughout the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer mentions: bear-baiting, hunting, the maltreatment of cats, plagues of rats & mice, rabbits (which were scarce), and certain exotic animals. • Critics have contrasted the poverty of the widow with the “roial”setting of Chauntecleer’s pasture. • The Tale includes mention of Jakke Straw, a leader in the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.
What do we call The Nun’s Priest’s Tale? • This is the source of much critical debate. • Suggested sources: Roman de Renart, a previous version (now lost), oral tradition or numerous illustrations of poultry-stealing foxes. (Rowland) • To appreciate Chaucer’s achievement, we must examine his “use of elements from the traditions of the Physiologus, and the bestiary, the beast epic, and the beast fable, we must contrast it with the interpretive patterns and literary qualities of each of these traditions” (Honegger 227).