Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords Related Events
1200 -

The Owl and the Nightingale

The Owl and the Nightingale (approximately created around 1200) is, next to Laȝamon's Brut, another masterpiece of the period. This poem of 1794 lines in octosyllabic couplets is unique in many respects, but most of all because it is the first example of a specific Middle English genre, the bird debate.

In a well organized way of procedure, an owl and a nightingale dispute the question which of the two birds is of greater value to mankind. The two characters behave very similarly to the talking animals in fables or beast epics. The verbal contest is witty, sometimes even comic, and easily combines elements of the learned scholastic debate with arguments of common sense and everyday life experience. The two birds do not recoil from any topic. They quarrel about the quality of their song and questions of their personal hygiene in close connection with problems of married life and adultery. Then, suddenly, they change the tone and discuss serious topics such as providence and prognostication, sin and the best way to gain eternal bliss. In the end, the debate remains unresolved and the verdict is left for the audience to reach.

There are the first few lines of the poem:
Ich was in one sumere dale,
in one suþe diȝele hale,
iherde ich holde grete tale
an hule and one niȝtingale.
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry