The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or The Cuckoo and the Nightingale: Introduction


1 Although other possibilities have been put forward, Sir John Clanvowe is the most likely author of the poem. See V. J. Scattergood, "The Authorship of The Boke of Cupide." Scattergood also includes a brief discussion in his introduction to The Works of Sir John Clanvowe, pp. 22-25.

2 John Walton, trans., Boethius: De consolatione philosophiae, ed. Mark Science, EETS o.s. 170 (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), "Translator's Preface," st. 5 (p. 2).

3 Robert Henryson, The Testament of Cresseid, line 41.

4 William Dunbar, Lament for the Makars, line 50 (poem 21).

5 John Lydgate, Troy Book 5.3519-21. Lydgate's verse contains many such examples.

6 Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes, ed. Charles Blythe (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999), lines 1959, 1961-63, 4978.

7 Frost, p. 397. Dryden's Fables Ancient and Modern; Translated into Verse, from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer: With Original Poems was first published in 1700.

8 The Faerie Queene 4.2.32 (The Complete Poetical Works of Spenser, ed. R. E. Neil Dodge [Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1936]).

9 See Christopher Cannon, The Making of Chaucer's English: A Study of Words (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998). See also Seth Lerer, Chaucer and His Readers, especially the introduction, "The Subject of Chaucer Reception," pp. 3-21.

10 Although all of Gower's English poetry came after Chaucer was well established as an "English" vernacular poet, Gower, in fact, was not a "Chaucerian" the way Lydgate was. But even by the mid-fifteenth century the two were linked with Chaucer.

11 This points to a more complex and troubled relation between Chaucer and those who venerate him as "father," the possibility of an Oedipal relationship between Chaucer and those poets who wrote "Chaucerian" verse after him. One implication of such a charged acknowledgment of Chaucer's im-portance, in other words, is that poets who followed him were not simply celebrating his genius but attempting to distinguish themselves through their own appropriation of and redeployment of the elements of his style.

12 Fiction's tendency to create meaning through analogy rather than logic gives it great potency in dealing with the inexplicability of higher truths. This correlates with Anselm's notion that "often we speak of things which we do not express with precision as they are; but by another expression we indicate what we are unwilling or unable to express with precision, as when we speak in riddles. And often we see a thing, not precisely as it is in itself, but through a likeness or image, as when we look upon a face in a mirror. And in this way, we often express and yet do not express, see and yet do not see, one and the same object; we express and see it through another; we do not express it, and do not see it by virtue of its own proper nature" (Monologium, ch. 65, in Anselm, Basic Writings, intro. Charles Hartshorne, trans. S. N. Deane [La Salle, IL: Open Court Classics, 1962], p. 129).

13 The phrase "sons of Chaucer" is modeled on the self-styled "Sons of Ben," those seventeenth-century cavalier poets, such as Richard Lovelace, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, John Suckling, and Andrew Marvel, who saw Ben Jonson as their literary model. Clanvowe differs from Chaucer in his access to vernacular traditions that Chaucer had a hand in creating; Chaucer's own models were of necessity mainly continental, but Clanvowe was able to allude freely to those of Chaucer's works that predated his own efforts.

14 See Nathan A. Gans, "Archaism and Neologism in Spenser's Diction," Modern Philology 76 (1979), 377-79. Gans points out the difficulties in identifying archaisms in Spenser: "The Elizabethan glossaries indicate that the question of Spenser's archaism is too complex to be resolved by counting OED cita-tions. In the Elizabethan period, for example, neologism could itself be a form of archaism. One way of imitating the old poets - Chaucer, Lydgate, Occleve, and Hawes - was to neologize, since the sixteenth-century reputation of these writers depended, in part, on their enriching the language with new words" (p. 379).

15 Frost, p. 388.

16 Scattergood dates the poem 1386-91 on the basis of literary resonances with Chaucer (1975, p. 14).

17 Compare Chaucer's TC, where Criseyde walks arm in arm with her companions along "sonded . . . weyes" (2.822), as she enters the realm of courtly behavior.

18 The opening two lines of Clanvowe's poem quoted here are borrowed from The Knight's Tale, indicating both the poem's interest in love and its close association with Chaucer's works. For a thorough reading of the poem's many resonances with The Knight's Tale and other works by Chaucer, see David Chamberlain and Charles Rutherford, respectively.

19 May 3, the third day of the third month (the most potent of love days), often proves overwhelming to medieval lovers (the medieval calendar year began on March 25). In Ovid's Fasti, it marks the feast of the Floralia, when men and women abandon themselves to love and the woods. In Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde it is the day on which Pandarus, awakened by the birds rehearsing the laments of Procne (the swallow) and Philomela (the nightingale), sets out to woo Criseyde on behalf of Troilus (TC 2.50-56 ff.); in The Knight's Tale, it is the day when Palamoun breaks out of prison in hope of winning Emelye, who goes strolling on May mornings such as the one on which Palamoun first beheld her (see CT I[A]1462-63 and 1034 ff.).

20 Compare Chaucer's Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, where nothing can restrain the narrator as he throws aside his books (F.36-39) to set out in May to hear the birds and watch the daisies spring and spread against the sun as they declare lays of love, singing "Blessed be Seynt Valentyn" (F.145).

21 This is because the cuckoo is often associated with a fear of cuckoldry (see explanatory notes to lines 90, 185, and 270).

22 Julia Boffey and John J. Thompson discuss the relationships of many of the following manuscripts, pp. 280-83.

23 The Complaint of Mars, The Complaint of Venus, Anelida and Arcite, Truth, The Legend of Good Women, The Parliament of Fowls, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Complaint unto Pity, An ABC, Fortune, Lenvoy de Chaucer a Scogan, The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse, Lenvoy de Chaucer a Bukton, Lak of Stedfastnesse, Against Women Unconstant (which some editors are doubtful about ascribing to Chaucer; see The Riverside Chaucer, pp. 636-37).

24 Including the Envoy to Alison (IMEV 2479), The Complaint against Hope (IMEV 370), and Complaynt D'Amours (IMEV 1388; ascribed to Chaucer by some editors; see The Riverside Chaucer, p. 637). After the first two booklets, the manuscript ends with several smaller, tacked-on booklets containing Lydgate's Reason and Sensuality and anonymous pieces, including How a Lover Praiseth His Lady (IMEV 4043), Venus Mass (IMEV 4186), and so on. See the list of contents for the manuscript in the facsimile volume, intro. John Norton-Smith (1979), pp. xxiii-xxix.

25 The Envoy to Alison (see note 24), A Lover's Plaint (IMEV 402), and A Complaint for Lack of Sight (IMEV 828). See the table of contents to the facsimile volume, intro. Pamela Robinson, p. vii.

26 This is missing the first 467 lines due to the manuscript's acephalous state.

27 Including the Complaint against Hope and Complaynt D'Amours (see note 24). The contents of the manuscript are listed in Robinson's introduction to the facsimile volume, pp. xvii-xxii.

28 Eleanor Prescott Hammond designated these manuscripts as part of the "Oxford group," noting their close relationship and suggesting they derived from a common exemplar (1908, pp. 333-39).

29 "Greneacres" stanza (IMEV 524), Chaucer's Truth, Walton's extract on Boethius (IMEV 2820 and 1597), "Deuise proues and eke humylitee" (IMEV 679).

30 "O hie emperice and quene celestiall" (IMEV 2461) and "This warldly Ioy is onuly fantasy" (IMEV 3660).

31 These include "The Lay of Sorrow" (IMEV 482) and "The Lufaris Complaynt" (IMEV 564), and other religious and secular lyrics. For further details, see the contents listed in the facsimile volume, intro. Julia Boffey and A. S. G. Edwards (1997), pp. 1-3.

32 See the contents in the facsimile volume, intro. Boffey and Edwards (1997), pp. 1-3.

33 See pp. 16-17.

34 For example, the first three items are extracts from Gower's Confessio Amantis (a section from the Tale of Tereus and Philomela from Book 5 [missing the first 370 lines], a section from Book 4 where Amans and Genius discuss Idleness in the prologue to the Tale of Rosiphelee, which is the third item), the fourth is Chaucer's Complaint unto Pity, followed by five short complaints, after which comes a missing folio, and then The Boke of Cupide. A short lyric follows Clanvowe's poem, then Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls, The Tale of Three Questions from Gower's Confessio Amantis, and another five anonymous pieces. These are followed in turn by four short items by Chaucer: Complaint to His Purse, Anelida's complaint from Anelida and Arcite, the tale of Thisbe from The Legend of Good Women, and The Complaint of Venus, and the manuscript continues in this vein. See the contents of the facsimile volume, intro. Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen, pp. xix-xxx.

35 See the contents in Beadle and Owen's introduction to the facsimile volume (pp. xix-xxx).

36 Beadle and Owen, p. xii. See also the discussion in the General Introduction, pp. 16-17, and p. 16n66.

37 See fol. 28r.

38 Some have suggested that Thomas Clanvowe (probably John Clanvowe's son) may have been the author in the early fifteenth century, but, according to Scattergood, the consistent use of final -e in the poem is parallel with Chaucer's use and therefore points to a fourteenth-century date (1964, p. 143). This view is seconded by K. B. McFarlane, who argues that, while it is possible that Thomas Clanvowe wrote the poem, "the friend of Chaucer has a rather better claim and this is reinforced by the slightly old-fashioned metrical character: it is Chaucerian rather than post-Chaucerian" (p. 184). The fact that Sir John Clanvowe was the author of a tract entitled The Two Ways also shows that he had literary interests. Although some scholars have proposed that the reference to Clanvowe could refer to a scribe, no scribe by that name has been found. For more on the debates over authorship, see Scattergood (1975), pp. 22 ff., and (1964), pp. 137-49.

39 Patterson, 1992a, p. 9.

40 See McFarlane for details about Clanvowe's relationship to these knights and to the king's house-hold. Patterson points out that "Walsingham [in his Chronicon] included Clanvowe as one of the so-called Lollard knights in the royal household, and it seems clear that he and the men with whom he associated shared the purist, biblicist piety that was widespread in the late fourteenth century and that the Lollards developed into a full-blown, theologically sophisticated heresy" (1992a, pp. 12-13).

41 For a more detailed discussion of the Lollard movement, see Stephen Justice, pp. 662-89. James H. Morey, Book and Verse: A Guide to Middle English Biblical Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), points out that the laity would have had access to a variety of biblical stories through the tradition of vernacular biblical paraphrase. The contrast, according to Morey, was that "[t]he Lollards produced a straight prose translation, devoid of commentary, while biblical paraphrasers freely adapted selected passages with frequent glosses, moralizations, and apocryphal digressions" to help readers interpret and make sense of the biblical passages addressed (p. 11).

42 Scattergood (1975), p. 19. Scattergood goes on to point out that at one point Clanvowe uses "the word loller ([line] 512), a word meaning 'loafer' or 'idler', a term often deliberately and scornfully misapplied to Lollards" (p. 20). Justice argues that Clanvowe's use of the term "loller" in The Two Ways does not so much show that he is a Wycliffite as illustrate "that Clanvowe embraces such insults, and feels himself and those like him scorned by the court world, by those who frankly pursue their 'eeses and . . . lustes,'" concluding ultimately that "[t]here is little in Clanvowe's work to suggest what he believed" (p. 671).

43 In fact, as the poem's most recent editor, Scattergood (1975), points out, in its opposition of the two birds the poem owes something to French poetry, since no other Middle English debate poem uses the cuckoo and the nightingale as opponents (see his discussion of Jean de Condé's La messe des oiseaus and Eustache Deschamps' balade "En ce douls temps" ["Plaintes d'amoureux," no. 476], pp. 10-12). Scattergood maintains, nevertheless, that the "main literary inspiration . . . is Chaucer" and notes the influence of The Parliament of Fowls (p. 12).

44 Conlee, p. 249.

45 McColly, p. 248. McColly compares The Book of the Duchess, Troilus and Criseyde (Book 1), the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women, and The Parliament of Fowls.

46 See especially p. 59.

47 For more on Middle English debate poetry, see Conlee's general introduction to Middle English Debate Poetry; for more on the dream vision, see Spearing's Medieval Dream-Poetry.

48 See Conlee's discussion of Middle English bird debates, pp. xxii-xxiv. Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls or French works like Jean de Condé's La messe des oiseaus are more properly bird parliaments than one-on-one debates.

49 See Eric Gerald Stanley's introduction to The Owl and the Nightingale, p. 30.

50 Stanley, p. 28.

51 Stanley, pp. 33-34.

52 Stanley, p. 28. Though earlier critics argued that the two birds follow legal procedure closely, use legal terminology consistently, and even reproduce a law case, Stanley contends that in fact there is not much technical detail, and that the terms used are ones that "must have been familiar to the layman" (p. 28). He argues instead that the use of legal discourse can be accounted for by the influence of "the style of the Latin debate poems that are the products of [legal] schools" (p. 28). Michael A. Witt argues even more insistently that "the focus is on the birds, not upon a careful following of a law-court procedure," and "it is important to emphasize that such terms are general and concentrated in only one passage of fifteen lines in a poem nearly 1800 lines long" (p. 290). Monica Brzezinski Potkay argues that "the legal system which grounds the arguments of the Owl and the Nightingale is a theoretical one, that of natural law - the law which the Middle Ages thought to be, as it were, the law of a higher court, Gods' own law that furnishes the basis of all other legal systems which rule human beings" (p. 368).

53 Bruce Holsinger points to "[t]he sheer number of convincing yet diverging legal arguments" about the poem, arguing that "these many . . . studies suggest that the poem's overriding concern may be with any one of the following: canon law, secular law, natural law, marriage law, theoretical law, or procedural law; or rather, it may be with all of them at the same time; or rather, it may be with the conflicts, gaps, overlaps, and elisions between these systems and practices of law. The central legal concern of The Owl and the Nightingale is, in a word, jurisdiction" (p. 165; italics in original). Hol-singer's view is that "the poem deploys an array of legal terminologies and procedures as a means of exploring what its writer saw as a liturgical problem, namely, what sorts of music belong where and when and with what results" (p. 156).

54 See Russell A. Peck's discussions of possible political readings of The Parliament of Fowls in "Love, Politics, and Plot in the Parlement of Foules," Chaucer Review 24 (1990), 290-305.

55 David Lampe argues that the poem's central theme is that of adulterous love; the debate is a reflection of the birds' traditional natures, with the cuckoo representing the cuckolded husband, and the nightingale both adulterous love and devout piety. He sees the poem as a "subtly humorous demonstration of the effects of concupiscence upon the narrator and of the proper remedy, marriage" (p. 61).

56 Rutherford suggests that it is not the birds' traditional associations that give the poem meaning but "the rhetoric of the contestants and the debate structure" (p. 357). He reads the cuckoo as "rational" and "cynical," and the nightingale as "emotionally committed," suggesting that the tension between reason and the irrationality of love is the central, driving force behind their argument (p. 358). Interestingly, Rutherford does not draw an explicit connection between gender and these qualities (i.e., masculine reason and feminine emotionality).

57 Chamberlain argues that the cuckoo is a figure of Christ while the nightingale is Cupid's corrupt, willful messenger.

58 For discussion of the cuckoo's "pleyn" singing (i.e., plain-song or monophonic music [line 118]) and the nightingale's ability to "breke" the song in her "throte" (i.e., polyphonic music [lines 119-20]), see Walter W. Skeat (1897), p. 527n118; Scattergood (1975), p. 83n118-20; and Conlee, p. 257n113-20.

59 See Patterson, 1992a.

60 See Kirsten Johnson Otey.

61 The suggestion that "ocy" is the imperative of occier has been noted by a number of critics; see, e.g., Scattergood (1975), p. 84. Arguing that Clanvowe associates the God of Love with the Church in the poem, Otey suggests the nightingale may in fact be speaking Latin rather than French on the grounds that the word might be interpreted as "the medieval Latin prefix 'occi' . . . related to the French and likewise meaning to strike down or kill" (p. 143). Patterson reads the cuckoo's response in part as an interroga-tion of "the social practices of the court," which included the misleading use of language and singing in French (1992a, p. 23). He argues that the cuckoo's complaint about the nightingale's cry is one that "reflects contemporary discussion about the politics of language," pointing to "the elitist dialect of the nightingale, a discourse that requires an armature of special knowledge and specific ideological commitments to be understood: 'ocy' is not only the traditional literary representation of the nightingale's song, and is not only in French, but encapsulates in a single word the absolutist ideology that is at the center of courtliness" (p. 23).

62 For a fuller discussion of the possible implications of this insult, see explanatory note to line 222.

63 See Thomas Hahn's discussion of Orm's Ormulum ("Early Middle English," pp. 85-87). Hahn explains that Orm "developed a quasi-phonetic system of spelling conventions that, in their attempt to enable literacy to reproduce spoken English, demonstrate an ethnographic accuracy that modern linguists have frequently admired," adding that his "desperation in concocting this orthographical extravaganza suggests how keenly he felt the absence of writing traditions in English" (pp. 86, 87). The phrase "AB language" comes from J. R. R. Tolkien's attempt to characterize the linguistic and orthographic uniformity of a group of texts from two different manuscripts copied by different scribes (see "Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meidhad," Essays and Studies 14 [1928], 104-26). In the introduction to his edition of the Ancrene Wisse, Robert Hasenfratz notes that "[w]hat is remarkable about the AB language is not so much that it represents a distinctive regional dialect, but the fact that it is really a kind of standard written language . . . and such a standard implies a common literate community" (p. 21; italics in original).

64 Certainly the date is right. Peck's discussions of the daisy poetic and spring's relationship to imagi-nation in Chaucer's poetry could equally apply to Clanvowe's poem. See Russell A. Peck, "Chaucer and the Imagination," Studies in the Age of Chaucer Proceedings 2 (1986), 33-48 (keynote address to the New Chaucer Society), and "Chaucerian Poetics and the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women," in Chaucer in the Eighties, ed. Julian N. Wasserman and Robert J. Blanch (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), pp. 39-55.

65 Scattergood (1975), p. 12.

66 The title given to the Legend in the Introduction to The Man of Law's Tale, "The Seintes Legende of Cupide" (CT II[B1]61) is also suggestive, especially given the likelihood that the Introduction to The Man of Law's Tale reflects an early stage in the planning of The Canterbury Tales, when the Man of Law was to tell a tale "in prose" (possibly Melibee), CT II(B1)96. That is, it is quite possible that Chaucer's Legend was known under this title c. 1386-87 when Clanvowe was writing.

67 This is in contrast to, for example, the somewhat stilted and formulaic presentation of the lady and lover in La Belle Dame sans Mercy (see the Introduction to that poem, below).

68 Otey, p. 108. Otey argues that the poem expresses concerns similar to those of the Lollards with whom Clanvowe sympathized, suggesting that the God of Love is aligned with the Church, while the cuckoo "is associated with Christ . . . creating an opposition between Christ and Church which is counterintuitive but which is at the heart of Lollard doctrine" (p. 111). She concludes that the poem uses "the genre of courtly love poetry to raise controversial religious and linguistic issues" and "subverts the genre to produce an underlying text that addresses the religious culture of the day" (p. 149; for her full argument, see pp. 104-49). Justice argues that "there is nothing obviously religious" about The Boke of Cupide, and sees its ties to Lollardy as "more a cultural than a theological matter," with the nightingale enjoying the comfortable ease condemned by the plain-speaking cuckoo, who is in turn scorned for being a churl (p. 671).

69 One is reminded of Duns Scotus' practice in suppositional logic of laying out a proposition, then providing three or four contrary proofs. For example, in "Concerning Human Knowledge" (V), Scotus asks whether it is possible to know truth in this life without the help of God. He then lays out four points in favor and one against before going into a protracted discussion of all the possibilities. In "The Spirituality and Immortality of the Human Soul" (VI), Scotus poses the question "Can it be known by natural reason that there will be a general resurrection of mankind" (p. 143) and offers three arguments for and three against the proposition, followed by detailed dissection of all the possible readings of each point. See John Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings: A Selection, ed. and trans. Allan Wolter, O. F. M. (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1962; rpt. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1964).

70 Patterson, who sees the opposition as one not between French and English per se, but rather between courtly language and "truth-telling" (1992a, pp. 19 ff.), argues that "the court cannot be spoken to in any language but its own, a language able to accommodate and neutralize all criticism," which means that "[t]o speak 'trewe and pleyne' is finally impossible: within the court all discourse becomes nuanced, multivalent, facile," and thus "The Boke of Cupide cannot help but be a courtier's frippery" (p. 26). Patterson's view is that the exclusion of the cuckoo from the courtly discourse shared by the nightingale and the narrator at the end of the poem is less significant "than the way in which [the cuckoo] is gradually absorbed into court discourse," so that he "no longer poses a threat to courtly social practices" (pp. 24, 25).

71 For a more thorough description of the manuscripts and a discussion of their relationships to one another, see Scattergood (1975), pp. 14-16.

72 Skeat (1897), p. lvii.

73 Skeat (1897), p. lvii.

74 Scattergood (1975), p. 16.

75 Scattergood (1975), p. 16.

76 Norton-Smith (1979) gives a detailed description of the manuscript in the facsimile volume.

77 Robert Costomiris argues that Thynne probably based his edition on Tanner 346. See also Scatter-good's descriptions of the two (1975), pp. 15, 16. Despite these problems, Conlee based his text on Tanner 346, as did Frederick Startridge Ellis. Scattergood used Fairfax 16, as did Erich Vollmer, while Skeat (1897) used Thynne's 1532 text as the basis for his edition. Thomas J. Garbáty does not specify which manuscript he uses, but his text is probably also based on Thynne (see Francis Lee Utley, who notes that "Thynne's 1532 edition forms the base for most editions subsequent to Skeat" [p. 883]).

78 The date is Utley's estimate (see the manuscript descriptions in his bibliography section, p. 883).

79 For discussion of the date, see the facsimile volume, intro. Boffey and Edwards (1997), pp. 3-4.

80 See the introduction to the facsimile volume, Beadle and Owen, p. xi.

81 Costomiris makes a convincing case for Thynne's use of Tanner 346.

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The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or The Cuckoo and the Nightingale: Introduction

With The Boke of Cupide, God of Love John Clanvowe begins a modern English literary tradition.1 Although he does not laud Chaucer by name, he is the first to write "Chaucerian" poetry, for himself and his friends, and also for Chaucer. Fifteenth-century poets would call Chaucer "floure of rethoryk / In Englissh tong and excellent poete,"2 "worthie Chaucer glorious,"3 "noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,"4 "gronde of wel-seying . . . / My maister Chaucer,"5 and "the honour of Englissh tonge," "maistir deere and fadir reverent, / My maistir Chaucer, flour of eloquence, / Mirour of fructuous entendement," "firste fyndere of our fair langage."6 Although Chaucer would not be called "father" again until John Dryden termed him the "Father of English poetry" in his preface to Fables Ancient and Modern centuries later,7 Edmund Spenser in the English Renaissance referred to him as "Dan Chaucer, well of English undefyled."8

Whatever merits there may be in such accolades, the identification of Chaucer as "ground," "father," "first finder [originator]," and "well" of English poetry would seem to present him as foundation and inventor, father and source of poetic inspiration in English,9 as if poets no longer need rely on the fountain Hippocrene, sacred to the muses. Praises of Chaucer that present him as a "father" or "source" of English poetry or poetic inspiration in such a way imply that his qualities as a poet are transhistorical, but, in fact, it is writers like Clanvowe, Spenser, and a host of others in between who created an enduring Chaucerian tradition by responding in vigorous and innovative ways to Chaucer's work. It is their efforts, as much as those of Chaucer, that generated an active vernacular literature in medieval England. Though one might expect that such praises of Chaucer would elevate in turn a writer like Clanvowe to the status of "father" or "first founder" of English literary tradition (since he is the first to write a Chaucerian poem that survives), they have instead diminished his importance and occluded his work. Similarly, while fifteenth-century writers looked to John Gower and John Lydgate as examples of poetic excellence alongside Chaucer,10 Chaucer's work later overshadows the two almost entirely.11 Although many of these poets achieved an entree to the tradition through their Chaucerian allusions and imitations, ironically, the literary canon they helped create disregarded them as derivative and extraneous. Ultimately, the high value placed on Chaucer has meant that the efforts of poets like Clanvowe, who helped fashion the Chaucerian aesthetic, lost their value as "original" works and came to seem instead pale imitations to be ejected from the Chaucer canon.

But Clanvowe was more than just an imitator. His Boke of Cupide draws significantly on earlier English writing, such as The Owl and the Nightingale, alongside Chaucer and the French poetry Chaucer embraced. In keeping with the dynamic of a literary tradition, Clanvowe is a "poet's poet," writing for a specific audience keenly attuned to the refinements of poetry making. Clanvowe shares this readership's interest in elevating vernacular poetry to a high station in the fields of intellectual discourse and entertainment,12 what Chaucer speaks of as the "best of sentence and moost solaas" (CT I[A]798). Clanvowe is one of those self-generated "sons of Chaucer,"13 writing for a sophisticated audience that shares his delight in the artifice of poetry, with its conventions and its variety. In his interest in and anxiety about producing poetry in English, as opposed to Latin or French, he likewise espouses a tradition of vernacular writing that Chaucer followed but did not invent. Both these strains illustrate Clanvowe's participation in a lively vernacular literature that relies on a variety of traditions, both native and continental, that continue in later English poetry. Clanvowe is a tradition maker who writes as part of a cohort of imagination and wit - a cultural imagination and a cultural wit - that culminates in the English Renaissance among other devotees of language and wit.

At the beginning of Book 6 of The Faerie Queene Spenser, just such a devotee, invokes the delights of poetry as a therapeutic pleasure terrain for sophisticated audiences well versed in literary scenery:
The waies, through which my weary steps I guyde,
In this delightfull land of Faery,
Are so exceeding spacious and wyde,
And sprinckled with such sweet variety,
Of all that pleasant is to eare or eye,
That I, nigh ravisht with rare thoughts delight,
My tedious travell doe forget thereby;
And when I gin to feele decay of might,
It strength to me supplies, and chears my dulled spright. (6.Proem.1)
The restorative pathways through which Spenser would guide himself and his audience nearly two centuries after Chaucer are both old and new - perpetually fresh: a kind of literary playground with the power to "ravish" ardent tourists who peruse its lines. Some think of the English Renaissance as that time when classical literature was rediscovered, but Spenser is not thinking of rebirth in that way. He is celebrating vernacular poetry, as his praises of Chaucer show, and the riches of this English literary tradition are occupied by a burgeoning "Chaucerian family," of which Clanvowe was, perhaps, the eldest (if largely forgotten) son. To be sure, Spenser is much attuned to continental literature, both French and Italian, just as Chaucer and his circle were, but it is the vernacular language - his language and the language of his people - that he celebrates. At the same time, with his archaisms and borrowings from French and Latin, Spenser perhaps seeks to gain his own place in English poetry even as he pays tribute to Chaucer; his deliberately artificial language, akin in its polyglot resonances to the "quaint" verse of Chaucer, in effect suggests a "new" past for English poetry that includes his own efforts alongside those of his beloved "Dan Chaucer."14 Indeed, Dryden remarked in his Preface to Fables Ancient and Modern that "Spenser more than once insinuates that the soul of Chaucer was transfused into his body; and that he was begotten by him two hundred years after his decease."15

As poets participating in a vibrant field of literary effort, Clanvowe and Spenser have much in common: they write poetry for and amidst poets. But the "Dan Chaucer" Spenser follows is comprised of Chaucer, Clanvowe, Hoccleve, Scogan, Lydgate, and a whole host of anonymous writers enjoying a Chaucerian fashion in poetry. In his Boke of Cupide Clanvowe is one of the first to respond to and borrow from the playing field of Chaucer's poetry. Writing even as Chaucer was beginning work on The Canterbury Tales,16 he walks the well-sanded paths17 of The Tale of Palamon and Arcite (which would become The Knight's Tale), The Parliament of Fowls, The Legend of Good Women, and The Romance of the Rose, and he does so with the audacity and delight of a proto-Spenser, an acolyte in the court of love poetry and its servants, who slyly reinvents his master's work even as he celebrates it through impersona-tion. The self-stimulated paths of this adventurer, whose reading causes him to lie awake at night yearning for bird-talk, lead his eyes and ears into groves where nightingales might speak to him. His is a knowing voyeurism realized in the waking world of language and poetry.

From its inception, The Boke of Cupide inhabits a Chaucerian landscape, accompanied by the rhetoric of French dream visions. Clanvowe's poem is written for an audience that has a well-defined set of expectations and a highly developed taste for Chaucerian style, an audience that included Chaucer himself. Chaucer provided much of the background for the Clanvowes, Hoccleves, and Scogans (and, later, the Lydgates) who extended and reinvented his work. This explains why these poets begin to appear alongside their "original" (Chaucer) in Chaucerian anthologies; this begins even as early as Oxford, Bodleian Library manuscripts Fairfax 16 (c. 1430-50) and Tanner 346 (third quarter of the fifteenth century), and continues in William Thynne's 1532 edition of "Chaucer" and all subsequent printed editions for the next several hundred years. These Chaucerian writers, like the later poets of The Flower and the Leaf and The Assembly of Ladies, are all folded into "Chaucer" and adorn the paths of Spenser's "delightfull land of Faery," with its "sweet variety / Of al that pleasant is to eare or eye."

In its first two lines, The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, decked out in spring in its most colorful (rhetorical) dress, broadcasts its affiliation with the subject of love and, more specifically, with Chaucer's love poetry. As soon as we read them, we know this is the world Chaucer enjoyed - the love world of The Parliament of Fowls, of Cupid - "'God save swich a lord!' - I can na moore" (PF, line 14); the world of The Knight's Tale:
The God of Love, a benedicité!
How myghty and how grete a lorde is he! (lines 1-2)18
ah bless you
But these borrowed lines are more than straightforward reproductions. The wit and humor of Clanvowe's poem depends on playing with and redeploying materials Chaucer provided; its deft retuning of phrases that have been used in other contexts shows that The Boke of Cupide is a full participant in a literary game requiring a good sense of fun, written for a vernacular, literate audience. Though for Clanvowe it was new, from our perspective this is a long-standing tradition, and the Chaucerian reverberations of Clanvowe's poem mark him as the first to shape this tradition by turning Chaucer into a reciprocating audience.

Clanvowe's plot is deliberately perplexed, given to self-agitation, as the narrator attempts to imagine himself into Chaucer's love world, desirous of a May experience with "feveres white," where one would sleep "but a lyte" (lines 41-42). Even though he feels "olde and unlusty," he works himself into a "hote and colde" state (lines 37, 39) that leaves him tossing and turning with love-longing on the "thirde nyght of May" (line 55).19 Although he recognizes the arbitrary nature of Love, who makes some laugh and others sigh, some glad and others sad (lines 18-19), the narrator still yearns to hear the song of the nightingale, Love's messenger. Pondering a lovers' saying that "hit wer good to her the nyghtyngale / Rather then the leude cukkow syng" (lines 49-50), he decides to go out in search of the nightingale's song.

Outside, the meadows are "poudred with dayse" (line 63),20 and the birds are preening, dancing, and leaping "on the spray . . . evermore two and two in fere [together]" (lines 77-78), having chosen their mates back in March. The birdsong is of such a soothing harmony that the narrator quickly falls into a swoon between sleeping and waking. But as soon as he succumbs to this half-sleeping state, instead of the thrilling trill of the nightingale, he hears the cuckoo's cry - for lovers an inauspicious sign indeed.21 Angry that his lover's swoon yields only the song of "[t]hat sory bridde, the lewde cukkowe" (line 90), he grumbles, "who was then evel apayed but I!" (line 92). As if in answer, he hears a nightingale reply to the cuckoo and finds that in his self-induced state he is able to understand the two birds. The cuckoo and the nightingale at once begin an argument about the nature of their respective cries. The narrator, perhaps hoping to be lucky in love, favors the nightingale and prays that the cuckoo might suffer: "I prey to God that evel fire him brenne" (line 105).

The cuckoo argues that his own cry is "trewe and pleyn" (line 118), easily understood by all, and accuses the nightingale of speaking obscurely. The nightingale responds by suggesting in her cry - "Ocy! Ocy!" - that she very much wishes "[t]hat al tho wer shamefully slayne, / That menen oght agen Love amys" (lines 129-30), adding:
"And also I wold al tho were dede,
That thenk not her lyve in love to lede,
For who that wol the God of Love not serve,
I dar wel say he is worthy for to sterve,
And for that skille 'Ocy! Ocy!' I crede."
(lines 131-35)
wish all those; dead
plan not their lives; lead
reason; cry
The cuckoo rejects the nightingale's "queynt lawe, / That eyther shal I love or elles be slawe" and announces his refusal either to die or, while he lives, to put himself under "Loves yoke" (lines 136-37, 140). These responses, together with the cuckoo's dismissal of lovers as diseas-ed and weak, rouse the incensed nightingale to a vociferous defense of love. She catalogues the virtues of the God of Love's service, arguing that it produces all goodness, honor, nobility, pleasure, heart's desire, perfect joy, trust, happiness, delight, cheerfulness, humility, faithful companionship, graciousness, generosity, courtesy, and fear of shame or doing wrong. Finally her list culminates in the claim that "he that truly Loves servaunt ys, / Wer lother to be scham-ed then to dye" (lines 159-60).

The cuckoo, on the other hand, argues that love is the cause of misfortune, sorrow, care, sickness, resentment, debate, anger, envy, reproof, shame, distrust, jealousy, pride, mischief, poverty, and madness. "Lovyng is an office of dispaire," he warns (line 176) that only leads to abandonment as soon as one turns one's back. The cuckoo's sniping against love finally provokes the nightingale to a personal attack - "Fye . . . on thi name and on thee!" (line 186) - but her defense reveals the liabilities of Love's service. Although she argues that lovers gain something from surrendering to Love, "[f]or Love his servant evermore amendeth [improves], / And fro al tachches [blemishes] him defendeth" (lines 191-92), it is equally clear that Love is the source of a lover's pain, since that is what "maketh him to brenne as eny fire" (line 193). Further, when she says that the God of Love "whom him likes, joy ynogh him sendeth" ("sends plenty of joy to whomever he likes," line 195), the nightingale echoes the narrator's observa-tions at the beginning of the poem that Love is an arbitrary and willful master.

Willfulness is, in fact, the charge that the cuckoo levels next against Love, and it is one the nightingale cannot answer. After first contending that "Love hath no reson but his wille" (line 197) the cuckoo proceeds to expose the consequences of such willfulness. According to the cuckoo, Love is not worthy to be followed because "ofte sithe [frequently] untrew folke he esith, / And trew folke so bittirly displesith, / That for defaute of grace hee let hem spille [die]" (lines 198-200). This is because, like Fortune, Love "is blynde and may not se" (line 202) and in the court of Love truth seldom does any good, "[s]o dyverse and so wilful ys he [Love]" (line 205). After this attack the nightingale bursts into tears, through which, despite her assertion that she "can for tene [sorrow] sey not oon worde more" (line 209), she pleads with the God of Love for help in avenging herself on the cuckoo. Not one to hesitate when Love's duty calls, the narrator catches up a stone that he casts "hertly" (line 218) at the cuckoo, who flies away calling out, "Farewel, farewel, papyngay" (line 222) as he soars out of sight.

At the end of the poem the nightingale thanks the narrator for chasing away the cuckoo and promises to try to be the first singer he hears the next May (if she is still alive and not afraid). In the meantime, she hopes that the narrator will not believe anything the lying cuckoo said and suggests that looking at the daisy will ease the pain of lovesickness. The nightingale then sings a song to the narrator, "I shrewe hem al that be to Love untrewe" (line 250), before flying away to complain to the other birds about the cuckoo. The poem ends with the promise of a parliament to judge the cuckoo on the next Valentine's Day, after which the nightingale's song, "Terme of lyve, Love hath withholde me" (line 289), awakens the narrator abruptly.

Clanvowe's poem, conceived and performed in the rarified environs of the Chaucer circle, immediately takes residence in manuscripts that serve as anthologies - bouquets of like-minded verse for a poetry-hungry audience.22 The three earliest collections that include the poem, Oxford, Bodleian Library MSS Fairfax 16, Tanner 346, and Bodley 638, are closely related in their selection of contents. In Fairfax 16, the largest and earliest of these, The Boke of Cupide lives in the company of Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, as well as his dream visions, complaints, and most of the shorter poems.23 The manuscript also contains poems by Lydgate (including A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe and The Temple of Glass), Hoccleve (including The Epistle of Cupid), Richard Roos (La Belle Dame sans Mercy), and a few anonymous pieces.24 Tanner 346 contains a smaller but very similar lineup, with Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowls, Anelida and Arcite, Complaint of Mars, Complaint of Venus, and Complaint unto Pity; Hoccleve's Epistle of Cupid; Lydgate's Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe and Temple of Glass; and some anonymous pieces.25 Bodley 638 reproduces many of these same works, including Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, Parliament of Fowls, Book of the Duchess, House of Fame, Anelida and Arcite, Complaint unto Pity, An ABC, and Fortune; Lydgate's Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe26 and Temple of Glass; Hoccleve's Letter of Cupid; and some anonymous pieces.27 In their focus on dream visions, complaints, and the shorter lyrics, these three anthologies seem primarily interested in Chaucer as a courtly love poet.28

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24, a Scottish anthology, begins with Chau-cer's Troilus and Criseyde, followed by a number of short proverb-style poems;29 and also includes Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, Parliament of Fowls, Complaint of Mars, and Complaint of Venus; Lydgate's Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe; Hoccleve's Mother of God and Letter of Cupid; two short religious lyrics;30 The Kingis Quair; and a number of pieces unique to this manuscript, including The Quare of Jelusy (included in the present volume), several only a few stanzas in length.31 Although the contents seem not quite as cohesive as in the other three manuscripts, this may reflect in part a different scheme of unification, that of Chaucer as author. In fact, Arch. Selden. B. 24 seems concerned with producing an anthology not just of courtly love poetry, but more specifically of Chaucer's works; thus, of the first fourteen items, which contain the Middle English selections, six are by Chaucer, and another five are inaccurately identified as his, while only three, including The Boke of Cupide, remain unattributed.32 This is in contrast to manuscripts Fairfax 16, Tanner 346, and Bodley 638, discussed above, which note the authorship of Chaucer's shorter pieces, such as Fortune, Truth, or The Complaint to His Purse, but leave the dream visions and longer complaints without attribution. By the same token, the poems by Lydgate, Hoccleve, and others are just as likely to be presented anonymously in these collections.

In the Findern manuscript (Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6), discussed in the General Introduction to this volume,33 the major Chaucerian poems (Chaucer's Complaint unto Pity, The Parliament of Fowls, extracts and some of his shorter poems; Hoccleve's Letter of Cupid; and Richard Roos' La Belle Dame sans Mercy) are interspersed with a number of selections from Gower's Confessio Amantis, various works by Lydgate (e.g., "The Wicked Tongue"), and many anonymous short lyric poems and carols, a significant number of which appear as unique copies in Findern. What is notable is that Findern's collection does not group the usual set of Chaucerian poems as closely to one another as the other manuscripts discussed here. Each of the "major" contributions is surrounded by smaller anonymous pieces that form a significant portion of the manuscript.34 In Findern an interest in lyric and complaint forms seems to drive most of the selections, giving The Boke of Cupide a less unified and less Chaucerian context. While certainly having a stake in the "game of love," the collection seems to display less of an interest in Chaucer's work than the others, with only six of the 62 items by Chaucer, a number equaled by selections from Gower's Confessio Amantis, while there are four items by Lydgate. By far the largest selection of works (more than half the items) comes in the form of short lyrics, carols, and complaints, most of which are anonymous.35 Findern, like the other anthologies, reflects the interests and needs of its audience, and The Boke of Cupide and other Chaucerian pieces seem to have occupied a different space in their literary imagination - that, perhaps, of inspiration, if the arguments for some of the anonymous lyrics "represent[ing] original contributions by the compilers" are to be believed.36

That The Boke of Cupide is Chaucerian there can be no doubt, and that it was written by Clanvowe is virtually certain. In the Findern manuscript the poem ends with the attribution "explicit Clanvowe,"37 and most scholars agree on this basis that the poem was written by Sir John Clanvowe, one of Chaucer's contemporaries who died in 1391.38 Lee Patterson is doubtless right in his assertion that Clanvowe was a friend and "literary colleague"of Chaucer.39 Retained first by Edward III and then by Richard II, Clanvowe was one of a group of knights who were, if not outright Lollards, at least Lollard sympathizers.40 Not yet condemned as heretics in the late 1380s, the Lollards were a group of religious dissidents whose arguments reflected the thought of John Wyclif, an Oxford theologian. Concerned with the increasing signs of Church decadence, the lack of education amongst the clergy, and the dependence of the laity upon clerical authority, Wyclif and his followers argued for a direct relationship between each individual and God, without the need for mediation by a priest. Wyclif began translating the Bible into English as a part of an attempt to make the interpre-tation of God's word available to everyone.41 That Clanvowe had such interests is suggested by his composition of a prose tract The Two Ways, "a treatise which shows some sympathy with Lollard positions."42

Of the four poems included in this volume, Clanvowe's is not only closest in time to Chaucer, but also arguably has the most "Chaucerian" flavor. The poem is heavily indebted to The Parliament of Fowls as well as The Knight's Tale, and the reference to the meadow of daisies in the beginning of the poem hints at the possibility that he wrote it after Chaucer had composed the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women (c. late 1386). The poem's resonances with Chaucer's poetry point to its intertextual richness, displaying a deep pattern of allusion to Chaucer and, to a lesser extent, to the French marguerite poetry on which Chaucer himself drew, as well as earlier English bird debates.43 In fact, The Boke of Cupide was not excluded from the Chaucer canon until the late nineteenth century, a fact that John Conlee notes "is not at all surprising" because of its overt use of Chaucerian components and "its wryly comic treatment of love and lovers," which gives it a particularly Chaucerian tone.44 Though William McColly argues on the basis of a statistical comparison between The Boke of Cupide and some of Chaucer's best known poetry that Clanvowe's poem is "nothing more than a primitive imitation" of Chaucer,45 David Chamberlain's view of the poem as a witty font of "literary jokes involving Chaucer"46 is the more common perception amongst scholars.

The Boke of Cupide follows established traditions in combining dream vision with debate, two genres that not infrequently took love as their subject, but also, in their self-consciousness, examined the rigors of debate itself.47 More specifically The Boke of Cupide is in a tradition of bird debates, such as the early Middle English poem The Owl and the Nightingale, the thirteenth-century Thrush and the Nightingale, or the later, fragmentary Clerk and the Nightin-gale.48 It ostensibly shares with many of these a preoccupation with the nature of love or fidelity; it also partakes to some degree of the debate poet's impulse to use legal discourse and become embroiled in contemporary religious or political issues. In The Owl and the Nightin-gale, for example, the birds both "at times adopt a homiletic style" as they argue about the relationship of their respective songs - and habits of living - to their love of and service to the Church,49 and the two birds' arguments further convey a "legalistic flavor" because of the use of "legal tags and terms,"50 as well as exempla and proverbs.51 These tendencies, together with the debate structure, give the impression of "the pleas and counter-pleas of advocates."52 In fact, though some critics have tried to downplay the use of legal terminology, the critical wrangling over the poem's connection or lack thereof to the law, court procedure, legal discourse, and so on points to its centrality.53 Clanvowe's poem is to some extent looking beyond Chaucer towards this earlier English tradition of bird debates, though there is certainly plenty of political subject matter in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls.54

Where The Thrush and the Nightingale and The Clerk and the Nightingale both center on the nature of women, The Boke of Cupide resembles The Owl and the Nightingale in that the focus of the debate is the birds' respective cries. The uses of legal language in Clanvowe's poem occur mostly on the cuckoo's side, as when he queries the nightingale's cry and calls it a "queynt lawe" (line 136) and claims he will not follow her "counseyl" (line 165), or when he calls loving "an office of dispaire" (line 176), and argues that, although the lover may "beget" a little pleasure from love, as soon as he lets his attention lapse he gets what he deserves ("He may ful sone of age have his eire," line 180), and finally concludes that in Love's "court ful selde trouthe avayleth" (line 204). But ultimately, these gestures towards legal argument seem no more than token, and The Boke of Cupide does not appear as invested in the trappings of legal language as the earlier poem is. For example, where the narrator of The Owl and the Nightingale is called to adjudicate between the two birds, in The Boke of Cupide the narrator is never asked to play the role of judge and in any case clearly takes the nightingale's side before the debate even begins. Where the owl and the nightingale make constant overt recourse to proverbs and hurl legal language at one another, turning their thickets into a courtroom setting, most of the emphasis in the argument between Clanvowe's birds centers on the qualities of love and the duty/fate of its servants, with little interest in legalities. Nevertheless, Clanvowe's poem clearly invokes the pleasures of the debate genre it shares with The Owl and the Nightingale - pleasures that consist of listening to the antagonists and taking sides: it succeeds, in other words, in making readers into contestants themselves.

And critical readings of Clanvowe's poem have been just as heated, investigating both its treatment of courtly love and its more political or religious concerns. Thus, some critics have taken the poem's initial declaration at face value and read it as a poem about love. In this vein, the debate has been interpreted as a contest between concupiscence and marriage55 or cynicism and maudlin sentimentality.56 But despite the poem's declared focus on love, the alignment of the nightingale and the cuckoo with language use and gender has suggested to other critics that the love debate masks religious or political resonances. Accordingly, some scholars have focused on the historical circumstances surrounding the poem's production, interpreting the debate as a controversy over erotic and divine love,57 polyphonic and monophonic music,58 courtly language and "truth-telling,"59 or the Church and Lollardy.60 This variety of responses gives the poem a layered effect, where surface and depth play against each other, and the difficulty of sorting through the possible readings clearly becomes another part of the poem's appeal.

Most interpretations focus on the differences between the speech of the cuckoo and the nightingale (in effect, their respective cries), and this is in fact what the two birds themselves focus on. As the cuckoo's "trewe and pleyn" singing (line 118) squares off against the nightingale's "nyse, queynt crie" (line 123), the cuckoo establishes the terms of the debate by claiming that his own language is unambiguous, while the nightingale's words are incompre-hensible. In his complaint the cuckoo specifically targets the nightingale's cry "Ocy! Ocy!" (line 124), for which he demands an explanation. The nightingale says that the cry means that whoever is against love will be killed, revealing that the word "ocy" is the imperative form of the Old French verb occier, "to kill." This set of exchanges lies at the heart of the debate between the two birds and marks the heat of the tension.61

The opposition between transparent and ornate speech suggests a concern over the clarity of language common to medieval poetry. But more than the traditional medieval preoccupation with ambiguity, the poem's concerns would seem to reveal a specific interest in the status or potential of English as a literary language. That is, the poem engages in a debate over the validity of the vernacular that ultimately will help expand the playing field of poetic delight that Spenser so generously imagines. The French root of the nightingale's cry turns the confrontation into one beween "queynt" French and "pleyn" English, where the cuckoo's "trewe and pleyn" song that may be understood by "every wight" (lines 118, 121) suggests its affiliation with the vernacular. English (accessible to everyone), opposes the nightingale's elusive song (courtly/aristocratic French), which the cuckoo implicitly condemns with his references to ornate embellishment: "my songe is bothe trewe and pleyn, / Althogh I cannot breke hit so in veyne / As thou dost in thy throte, I wote ner how" (lines 118-20). Here, the cuckoo lauds his own song as the unvarnished truth, claiming that he lacks the skill to give his melody the kind of pointless frills that the nightingale generates "in veyne."

Although typically the vernacular is gendered female (the "mother tongue"), the fact that the nightingale is female and the cuckoo male (as is clear from the pronouns used for each) suggests a new alignment of English as masculine and French as feminine. The cuckoo's characterization of the nightingale's cry as a "queynt lawe" that invokes the dire conundrum "eyther shal I love or elles be slawe" (lines 136-37) emphasizes both the ornate qualities of the cry and the hidden violence inherent in the God of Love's code. At worst, you die; at best, if you do listen to the nightingale's "queynt crie," the cuckoo seems to suggest, you may end up seduced by her "queynt lawe," a "papyngay" (line 222) like the narrator, good only for rote entertainment at court.62 The cuckoo refuses both these possibilities, saying, "For myn entent is neyther for to dye, / Ne while I lyve in Loves yoke to drawe" (lines 139-40). The nightin-gale's answer equates the naturally "gentil" ("noble," line 150) with those who want to enter Love's service, while she condemns the cuckoo for having a "cherles hert" (line 147). Here the nightingale uses the word "churl" as a term of contempt, dismissing the cuckoo not merely as commoner without rank, but more specifically as a scoundrelly fellow who lacks the requisite "gentility" to serve Love. The poem thus sets up an opposition between English, coded as unadorned, true, reasonable, accessible to everyone, even "manly," and French, which is aristocratic, feminized, ornate, excessively emotional, violent, and veiled or secretive.

This encounter between English and French, as embodied in the cuckoo and the nightingale, perhaps expresses a concern about what it means to be writing in the common (non-aristocratic) language of the people. At this moment, just as English was emerging as a full-blown literary language, many practitioners - Chaucer among them - expressed discomfort with writing in English, since it was primarily a spoken language. Latin and French were the languages of privilege - of ecclesiastical, literary, legal, and courtly discourse. Preoccupied with the lack of writing conventions in English, scribes and/or authors of early texts, such as Orm's Ormulum and the texts in the AB dialect (the Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group texts), had made concerted efforts to create consistent dialect and spelling conventions of their own.63 Although Chaucer, Clanvowe, and their immediate contemporaries formed part of a literary movement that was self-conscious and ambitious in unprecedented ways, nonetheless they shared these concerns about the propriety of using English instead of Latin or French in the absence of an English literary tradition, and this formed a central theme of their writing.

At the same time as it raises issues such as the appropriate use of the vernacular, the poem can also be read as a participant in a rich tradition of similar poetry preoccupied with courtly love. More particularly, I want to suggest that The Boke of Cupide may be a response, not just to Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and The Knight's Tale, but also to his Legend of Good Women.64 Although V. J. Scattergood argues that it is unclear whether or not Chaucer's Legend provided inspiration for The Boke of Cupide,65 nevertheless, the nightingale's declaration that "he that truly Loves servaunt ys, / Wer lother to be schamed then to dye" (lines 159-60) seems to take up the theme of Chaucer's poem, which suggests the irrationality of such a claim through its dark stories of women who do actually die for their fidelity in love. The Boke of Cupide's dream-setting in the field of daisies, similar to that of the Prologue to the Legend, would seem to affirm such a reading, but, since the daisy cult was also popular among French writers who may also have influenced Clanvowe, it is not easy to make such an explicit connection. More suggestive is the accusation the God of Love makes to the narrator in the Prologue to the Legend. The God of Love calls the narrator his "foo" (F.322) and explains that this is because
. . . of myn olde servauntes thow mysseyest,
And hynderest hem with thy translacioun,
And lettest folk from hire devocioun
To serve me, and holdest it folye
To serve Love. Thou maist yt nat denye,
For in pleyn text, withouten nede of glose,
Thou hast translated the Romaunce of the Rose,
That is an heresye ayeins my lawe,
And makest wise folk fro me withdrawe. (F.323-31)
Although ostensibly the "heresye ayeins my lawe" refers to the poem The Romance of the Rose itself, another possible reading of the line suggests that the "heresye" here is really the translation of what should be hidden into "pleyn text, withouten nede of glose" (in other words exposing the truth about Love by writing about it in English rather than French). This is further suggested by the fact that it is explicitly the narrator's "translacioun" that "hynderest" Love's "olde servauntes," rather than the French poem. If the truth about Love is that "he can make of wise folke ful nyse," as the narrator of The Boke of Cupide puts it (line 13), then knowing that may indeed have the effect of "mak[ing] wise folk fro [Love] withdrawe." And if Love's "lawe" is anything like the nightingale's explanation of the meaning of her cry - "That eyther shal I love or elles be slawe," in the cuckoo's "plain" paraphrase (line 137) - telling such an unvarnished truth might indeed drive Love's servants away. These resonances between the particular details of the Prologue to the Legend and the concerns of Clanvowe's poem suggest that The Boke of Cupide may have taken its inspiration from the issues raised in Chaucer's Prologue.66

As in The Owl and the Nightingale, the various readings of Clanvowe's poem hinge on a particular interpretation of the birds and their perceived affiliation with a certain type of speech or language. In the case of The Boke of Cupide, the lighthearted presentation, brisk pace, lively dialogue, and sly humor would seem geared to deflect serious readings of the poem, but the way in which critical responses persist in attempting to decipher the "meaning" of the two figures illustrates one of the primary pleasures of Clanvowe's poem, that of dense and layered analysis. Like Chaucer's Wife of Bath, the two figures of the cuckoo and the nightingale give the impression of "real" speakers producing "natural" dialogue in their spirited repartee67 but turn out upon closer examination to invoke a host of literary allusions and invite a variety of complicated, often conflicting readings. The poem itself resembles the debate between its two principals in that its brevity and seeming simplicity mask a complicated array of ambiguous possibilities that lends itself to perpetual interpretation. Kirsten Johnson Otey argues that The Boke of Cupide "poses as a courtly love poem" but is really "ask[ing] provocative questions about dissident theological and ecclesiastical opinions."68 Certainly these antitheses do not have to be mutually exclusive. In some ways what makes Clanvowe's poem resonate so well with Chaucer's works is its capacity to uphold a number of readings simultaneously, which is clearly one of the pleasures of such highly literary writing. Of course, this ambiguity is not limited to Chaucer's work, as debate poems such as the aforementioned Owl and the Nightin-gale, or courtly poetry like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, equally able to sustain a variety of possible readings, illustrate.69 In Clanvowe's case, it is the combination of allusion and the dual-voicing of the narrative - at once lighthearted and slyly critical - that makes the model of Chaucer resonate so well.70

What the poem finally achieves is the very Chaucerian effect of tensions held in suspended animation. Clanvowe, after the manner of Chaucer, invites us to side with the cuckoo's advocation of "trewe and pleyn" against the "queynt" and perhaps deadly cry of the nightingale and her "papyngay," only to trick us in the end, as the cuckoo in his "plain" way continually "glosses" the nightingale, offering interpretations of her claims and supposedly telling the truth about the God of Love; all the while the literary contest invites us as readers to strive in turn to change the "trewe and pleyn" poem into a "queynt crie" of our own, obsessively spinning more and more complicated readings out of what seems superficially a straightforward debate. Literary writing in English, it seems, is no less "queynt" than the French it claims to best. The multiplicity of possible readings and the way in which the characters and their debate encourage speculation about meaning without ever offering a satisfactory resolution suggest that Clanvowe's joke is on his readers, who insist on taking him seriously despite his invitation to play. It is a "sentence-and-solaas" joke truly worthy of Chaucer himself, one an audience that has developed a taste for such literary play would be sure to appreciate. The allusions to Chaucer's work and the recycling of Chaucerian themes and phrases make The Boke of Cupide even more wittily delightful for initiated readers of Chaucer. Nevertheless, the clear connections to earlier Middle English bird debates, in particular The Owl and the Nightingale, as well as to French poetry, show Clanvowe not simply as an imitator but also as a maker who stamps his own mark on the Chaucerian verse he creates.

Note on the text

The Boke of Cupide appears in the five manuscripts discussed above and listed in detail below.71 The poem is also incorporated in several early printed editions of Chaucer, those by William Thynne, John Stow, and Thomas Speght. Skeat classifies the extant texts into two groups: A, comprising the Findern manuscript, Tanner 346, and Thynne; and B, made up of Fairfax 16 and Bodley 638, with Arch. Selden. B. 24 apparently as a third group, "which has readings of its own."72 Skeat regarded A as the superior set of manuscripts, adding that "MS. Ff. is, in some respects, the most important," giving no explanation for either assumption.73 Scattergood groups the manuscripts similarly, but includes Arch. Selden. B. 24 with the others in Skeat's group A, noting that, though "they have in common 17 errors," the high number of unique errors in each text shows that correspondences between the four versions in this group are not as close as those between the Fairfax 16 and Bodley 638 copies, "which share more than 30 common errors" but have relatively few unique errors.74 According to Scattergood's calculations, the Fairfax 16 and Bodley 638 versions are closely related, and "[i]t may be that they derive from a common exemplar; but neither can have been copied from the other."75

This edition of the poem is based on the text in Fairfax 16,76 with emendations and some alternate readings from the other manuscripts recorded in the textual notes, according to the practices laid out in the General Introduction. I have taken the horizontal stroke above words such as br_ne (line 105) to be an abbreviation for a nasal consonant (n/m) and have expanded accordingly. Other strokes and flourishes are disregarded as otiose. Fairfax 16 is probably the earliest of the manuscripts, though Tanner 346 may be contemporary or only slightly later; the Tanner 346 copy, however, contains a number of errors, including missing and transposed lines, a problem that Thynne's edition shares.77 Bodley 638 is somewhat later (third quarter of the fifteenth century),78 and would also be a good choice. Arch. Selden. B. 24 is from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and contains an incomplete copy. 79 The Findern manuscript, a largely amateur production, is also among the latest of the extant witnesses.80

Indexed in

IMEV 3361.


Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Fairfax 16 (SC 3896), fols. 35v-39v (c. 1430-50). [Base text for this edition.]

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Tanner 346 (SC 10173), fols. 97r-101r (mid- to late fifteenth century). [Adds four stanzas (balade with envoy).]

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 638 (SC 2078), fols. 11v-16r (late fifteenth century).

Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6. (Findern MS), fols. 22r-28r (c. 1500). [Adds two seven-line stanzas after the Explicit.]

Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B. 24 (SC 3354), fols. 138v-141v (late fifteenth or early sixteenth century). [Lines 1-246 only.]

Early printed editions

Thynne, William, ed. The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newly Printed: With Dyuers Workes Whiche Were Neuer in Print Before. London: T. Godfray, 1532. [STC 5068. Rpt. 1542, STC 5069; ?1550, STC 5071. Adds balade with envoy. Based on Tanner 346.]81

Stow, John, ed. The Workes of Geffrey Chaucer: Newly Printed, With Diuers Addicions, Whiche were Neuer in Printe Before: With the Siege and Destruccion of the Worthy Citee of Thebes, Compiled by Jhon Lidgate. London: J. Wight, 1561. [STC 5075. Based on Thynne.]

Speght, Thomas, ed. The Workes of our Antient and Lerned English Poet, Geffrey Chavcer, newly Printed. London: G. Bishop, 1598. [STC 5077. Rpt. 1602, STC 5080; 1687. Based on Thynne.]

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