Medieval Studies

Animal Feelings and Feelings for Animals in Chaucer

Faculty Seminar on British Studies

Fri, February 16, 2007 | TOM LEA ROOMS, HARRY RANSOM HUMANITIES RESEARCH CENTER 3.206

3:00 PM

In Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer offers sharp and surprising insights about human relationships with other animals. While it might appear that a little dog, a cock, and a falcon simply help Chaucer to comment on human society, bonds of sympathy between humans and animals reveal a deeper curiosity about animals themselves, and about what kinds of relationships are possible with them.

Rather than seeing animals as sharply different from humans, in line with philosophical thought of his time, Chaucer explores human-animal connections through the commonplace experience of feeling for animals. The Prioress weeps over her pet dogs, the Nun's Priest laments the plight of a vain rooster, and in the Squire's Tale a princess rescues a falcon in distress. What does it mean to pity animals, or to feel compassion for their suffering?

Susan Crane is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her books Insular Romance (1986), Gender and Genre in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1994), and The Performance of Self (2002) discuss feudal thought, chivalry, magic, sexuality, honor, and faith in medieval literature and culture. A book in progress

will ask how medieval people understood animals and their place in creation.

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