The Owl and the Nightingale

The Owl And The Nightingale

Medieval Text
Medieval Text Less

The Owl and the Nightingale

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Description:
The Owl and the Nightingale is a 12th- or 13th-century Middle English poem detailing a debate between an owl and a nightingale as overheard by the poem's narrator. It is the earliest example in Middle English of a literary form known as debate poetry (or verse contest). (Examples exist in the Old English poems Solomon and Saturn., British Library's expedition (online and at the museum), 2011.

Manuscripts, date, and authorship

There are two surviving manuscript versions of The Owl and the Nightingale, one belonging to the British Library as BL MS Cotton Caligula A.IX, the other to Jesus College, Oxford, as Jesus College MS 29. Both manuscripts date from the second half of the 13th century, and possibly the last quarter of the century.

Traditionally the text is believed to have been originally composed during the period 1189-1216. This belief is based on the poem's mention of a recently departed King Henry, Henry II who died in 1189. However, it has been suggested that the poem actually refers to Henry III, which would date the poem as later than 1272 (not much earlier than the production of the two surviving manuscripts).

Similarly there has been much debate about the identity of the author of The Owl and the Nightingale. "Master Nicholas of Guildford", who is mentioned in reverential terms within the text, is one possible candidate. The religious poem entitled La Passyun Jhu Christ preceding The Owl in the Jesus College manuscript has a note...
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