The Owl Similies in the Tale of Florent and the Wife of Bath's Tale.

Beidler, Peter G.

The Owl Similies in the Tale of Florent and the Wife of Bath's Tale.

Peter G. Beidler. "Chaucer's Canterbury Comedies: Origins and Originality. Seattle, WA: Coffeetown Press, 2011. Pp 105-15.

Beidler's essay expands on the paper of the same title Beidler delivered in London in 2008, at the inaugural Gower Society Congress. His focus is "the striking image of a man hiding like an owl after he marries an ugly old bride" (p. 105) which Gower and Chaucer both include. Chaucer borrows this image from Gower ("Gower's tale both preceded and influenced Chaucer's," p. 108) but, Beidler argues, "Gower and Chaucer make quite different uses of the owl similes in their tales and . . . the simile is more organically integrated by Gower than by Chaucer" (p. 108). Gower compares Florent to an owl that travels by night in order not to be seen with his unattractive bride (p. 110). Florent's shame is of a piece with his entire character as Gower limns it, Beidler shows. "For Florent, it is all a question of hiding his wife--by banishment to an island, by cover of night, by closed doors, by clothing--so that 'noman' can see how he has aligned himself with so ugly a bride. Significantly, the two are wedded not in the daytime, as was typical for a wedding, but 'in the nyht' [CA I.366] (p. 112). Beidler also notes the analogous significance of Florent's choice: for a man so motivated primarily by reputation, to have the world think his wife hideous would be a frightful fate indeed. Chaucer's nameless rapist-knight is "never once . . . said to be concerned about his worldly fame or his reputation among others" (p.114). Moreover, because Chaucer's Loathly Lady accompanies the knight to Arthur's court, to claim her promise when her answer prevails--unlike her counterpart who waits for Florent to return--there is no question of keeping the marriage a secret. "Chaucer's knight's hiding like an owl, then, has nothing to do with concealing either his bride or his marriage . . . . Rather . . . [he] hides like an owl for no other reason than that he wants to avoid having to look at his ugly bride between his morning wedding and the approaching night when he must pay his marital debt to her" (pp. 114-15). Beidler concludes that, because "owls by nature hide during the day to avoid being seen . . . not . . . to avoid having to look at their wives" (p. 115), the simile is less naturally adapted by Chaucer from Gower's more fully complementary original. [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.2]


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Influence and Later Allusion
Style and Versification