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The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature$
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Dorothy Yamamoto

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186748

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186748.001.0001

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Birds: The Ornament of the Air

Birds: The Ornament of the Air

(p.34) chapter two Birds: The Ornament of the Air
The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature


Oxford University Press

In the Bestiary, birds are treated as a self-contained and distinctive form of creation. Lévi-Strauss suggests that it is precisely because birds are so different from humans that they can be permitted to resemble them in cultural references. In medieval literature, birds often represent an ideal society, but many writers play with the fact that, although they are socially congruent, they are emphatically unlike us in their bodies — conducting their wooing not with lips but with ‘beckes’. Close readings of texts including Chaucer's Squire's Tale and Manciple's Tale; Gower's ‘Ceyx and Alcione’ and ‘Tereus’ in his Confessio Amantis; Lydgate's ‘The Churl and the Bird’, and Clanvowe's The Cuckoo and the Nightingale follow.

Keywords:   Bestiary, birds, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate, John Clanvowe

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