Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

David Raybin


Geoffrey Chaucer mentions birds over 240 times throughout The Canterbury Tales (Tatlock and Kennedy). This frequent allusion to birds is significant, especially since three of his twenty-four tales are actually about birds. What makes these three tales particularly fascinating is that their bird protagonists have the gift of speech. This study examines Chaucer's use of bird imagery in The Canterbury Tales, in particular, his use of talking birds in "The Squire's Tale," "The Nun's Priest's Tale" and "The Manciple's Tale." My theory is that Chaucer uses bird imagery and talking birds to question the sovereign power of the fourteenth-century British nobility, most specifically the dangers of flattery and the issue of nature versus nobility. To this end I discuss Chaucer's Canterbury Tales audience, their knowledge of bird imagery, and the need for subversion. I also discuss the way Chaucer uses language and discourse to reveal certain truths or realities about the nobility, as well as his propensity for addressing serious matters, such as the nobility's sovereign power, with a high degree of delight and entertainment.

In addition, I discuss the ways in which Chaucer's audience for The Canterbury Tales was different from his audience for previous works, such as the Book of the Duchess. I examine reasons Chaucer subverted meaning in The Canterbury Tales and how he did so in his talking bird tales. I also examine the use of animal imagery in art, literature and religion, and discuss Chaucer's audience's familiarity with it. And throughout my discussion I look at the way Chaucer uses talking birds to draw attention to language, while simultaneously delighting and entertaining his audience.