Of 'Briddes and Beestes': Chaucer's Use of Animal Imagery as a Means of Audience Influence in Four Major Poetic Works
Los Angeles: University Of Southern California, 1994
PhD dissertation at the University Of Southern California.
"This dissertation is an analysis of Geoffrey Chaucer's use of animal imagery in The House of Fame, The Parlement of Foules, 'The Nun's Priest's Tale' in The Canterbury Tales, and Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer used animal imagery extensively in these works, either portraying animals acting like humans or humans exhibiting bestial behavior. The paper explores how Chaucer deliberately employed these animal portrayals to influence and to manipulate his audience. Chaucer's medieval audience was familiar with animal lore through numerous sources: daily agricultural interaction with animals, bestiary lore, religious sermons containing animal lore, folklore, and biblical allusions. For each work, I analyze the various references to animals in terms of historical usage and importance to the work. Also, I examine recent Chaucerian scholarship which discusses Chaucer's relationship with his audience. I argue that Chaucer's use of animal imagery is deliberate and calculated in its goal of imparting social and religious values to his audience. He enlightened and entertained his audience through the animal imagery, always with the specific intent of manipulating them to accept his own themes and commentaries. In The House of Fame, Chaucer uses the eagle animal figure to discuss medieval theories of science and rhetoric and to analyze the art of poetry itself. In The Parlement of Foules, extensive bird imagery enhances Chaucer's lament about the decline of chivalry and changes occurring in his social milieu. In 'The Nun's Priest's Tale,' the animal imagery enables Chaucer to indulge in humorous social class depictions, a means of audience manipulation and social control. And his greatest work involving animal imagery, Troilus and Criseyde, is Chaucer's most blatant and brilliant use of Christian oriented animal imagery. In this paper, I show that Chaucer's creative and successful use of animal imagery enables him to interact more cogently on philosophical, spiritual, intellectual, and humorous levels with both his medieval and modern audiences." - abstract
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