Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Sponsler, Claire

First Committee Member

Wilcox, Jonathan

Second Committee Member

Lavezzo, Kathryn

Third Committee Member

Morris, Adalaide

Fourth Committee Member

Kamerick, Kathleen


This dissertation examines how the non-human (the natural, not the other-worldly) world and its creatures were voiced in several late medieval English texts: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale and Manciple's Tale, and the Towneley Second Shepherds' Play. The dissertation is organized into three chapters which severally allocate voicing the non-human to three different (although conceivably overlapping) modes of representation - acoustic, formal, and performative. Underpinning this project is the objective to place these texts in a historicized ecocritical context.

In the first chapter I analyze the figurative (and formative) sounds the natural world "speaks" as it advances a crescendo of insistent clamor in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I argue that this poem exploits the common (and serviceable) conviction of the analogous equivalency of the two categories woman and nature - in order to register the anxieties engendered by the encroachments of women and the natural world in post-plague England. The second chapter addresses how the voices of domestication and its discontents unfold in the use Chaucer makes of the protean genres of fable and exemplum, proverbs, and the deployment of similes in two of his bird tales. I rely on current theorizing of interspecies and intra-species domestication to identify and extract the discontents I have found to be inhering in its processes: savagery/violence, hybridity, uninvited and unintended transformations, and theft. The third chapter considers how human and non-human voices confoundingly yet steadily implicated and entangled in one another - performatively discover homes amid multiple ranges, including silence, volume, laughter, and music. This chapter represents the effort to subtend and complicate existing understandings of this popular late medieval pageant by thinking in terms of ranges, variations, and multivalent characterizations, rather than slots, hierarchies, stabilities, and characters who have become little more than canned effigies.

In conclusion, I argue that late medieval poetic texts show a remarkable diversity in the ways and means their authors chose to variously voice the non-human, and that the particular forms this voicing took shaped, even as it was shaped, by the non-human world around them. This diversity and variation enables a more complex understanding of the different avenues and directions this voicing afforded to succeeding generations.


Ecocriticism, English, Medieval, Poetry


viii, 209 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 196-209).


Copyright 2013 Tracy Jill Stuhr