Alexandria Digital Research Library

Avian eloquence in premodern English literature

Palmer Browne, Megan Elizabeth
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. English
Degree Supervisor:
Carol Pasternack and Patricia Fumerton
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Literature, Medieval and Language, Modern
Medieval English literature
Renaissance literature
Anglo-Saxon literature
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2014

Medieval and Early Modern English writers consistently affirmed interspecies connections between humans and birds in order to meditate upon ethical approaches towards others, and in order to understand the rhythms of the larger systems (both earthly and heavenly) in which all creatures participate. Building upon recent work in animal studies by literary critics and other philosophers, my dissertation counters the view that early writers used animals only symbolically. Instead, I use close-readings of four key works (the Anglo-Saxon Seafarer, Chaucer's House of Fame, Pembroke's translation of Psalm 68, and Shakespeare's Macbeth) to show how some of English literature's most prominent early texts represent interspecies commonality as occurring at three levels: material embodiment, social experience, and immaterial spirituality. While different writers across this long period voiced their avian characters in various ways, from onomatopoetic renderings of bird sounds to putting human speech in their beaks, a commitment to naturalistic depiction of avian habits is visible throughout. Also prominent is a sense that birds are eerily human-like. Their complex social structures, vocal communication, and song resemble human practices. Birds, however, have something we have always longed for: flight. This makes them the earthly animals physically closest to heaven, granting them a liminal status in which they are both deeply creaturely and also closest to the Creator. I suggest that such poetic renderings become particularly prominent at times of expansion of emergent media technology, because animal communities and communications can become a focus of human nostalgia for simpler forms. They also become sites of anxiety about what is lost---including a feeling of lost ethical virtue---when technology changes the human social landscape. The current animal turn is related to earlier such turns, and all are influenced by changing media.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (259 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Megan Palmer Browne
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