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My voice shall fill the woods : Lydgate, poetic authority, and the canonization of Philomela


In this thesis, I discuss the figures of Philomela and the nightingale as they originate in Ovid, and in representations of them in medieval English poetry as separate entities. The bird who migrates to England each spring serves as a positive symbol for springtime love, but her connections to Philomela as a victim are always present, producing literature that continues to silence her suffering and removing the nightingale from the woman who sought justice. I begin the discussion with a reading of Chaucer's The Legende of Good Women, where we see the male narrator becoming "infected" by that which he reads, and then re-enacts the silencing of Philomela by cutting her story short. This is followed by a discussion of Sir John Clanvowe's The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, where we encounter the nightingale independent of Philomela, where she serves as a source of relief for the troubled, lustful narrator. Lydgate's poem "The Nightingale" continues the written tradition of separating the two figures while drawing upon their past. Lydgate even lures his readers with a promise of content similar to that of previous tales as a template for learning mental and physical constraint. "The Nightingale" explores the human cognitive process and the function of readers as interpreters, assigning the nightingale a role of heightened importance to elevate her above sexist representation. His poem creates a complex relationship between the nightingale as a highly sexual pagan character, as a symbol of springtime love, and as a religious reminder of Christ's suffering

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