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The Middle English poem The Owl and the Nightingale famously records the dispute between a hostile Nightingale and a bellicose Owl. Within that dialogue the birds reproduce themselves in word and egg, in rhetoric and body. Their digressions on bodies and scatology and on childbearing and childrearing become fertilizer that expands maternal authority into public, intellectual discourse. In addition to calling forth their own communicative powers, both characters aggressively recount narratives best known from the work of Marie de France, a voice feminist scholars have successfully restored to the canon, to condemn their foe. In this light, I argue, The Owl and the Nightingale encourages feminist labor when it recounts a woman’s writing without acknowledging her authorship and material feminist analysis when it puts such an artful dispute in the voices of vividly embodied avian mothers.


The Owl and the Nightingale, Marie de France, reproduction, performance, dialectic

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Copyright © 2018 Wendy A. Matlock