Studies on Chaucer and His Audience

By Mary Elizabeth Giffin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
"THE PEKOK WITH HIS AUNGELS FETHERES BRYGHTE"

As the birds in the Parlement of Foules assemble, each is introduced by a word or phrase descriptive of its character, its habits, or its literary associations. In a stanza grouping the "sparwe, Venus sone," with the nightingale, the swallow, and others, Chaucer places after the dove: "The pekok, with his aungels fetheres bryghte ( P.F., 356)."1 The descriptive phrase is arresting because the peacock elsewhere in Chaucer's poetry, as in other writing of the time, is associated with pride. The Reeve, describing the miller of Trumpington, employs the usual association: "As any pecok he was proud and gay" (A 3926). The god of love takes revenge upon Troilus for his scorn of lovers in the lines: "For sodeynly he hitte hym atte fulle;/And yet as proud a pekok kan he pulle" ( TC, I, 209-210).

Skeat annotated the Parlement of Foules line in which the peacock appears by referring to Bell's note: "In many medieval paintings the feathers of angels' wings are represented as those of peacocks."1 No one has been interested in pressing the point further. Yet the line in which the unusual image flashes out among conventional descriptive phrases occurs in the central stanza of the poem, and in it the angel and the peacock have changed places. To an audience familiar with angels in peacock feathers, the reversal would have brought the pleasant shock of surprise which in Chaucer's poetry is sometimes a clue to his artistic purpose.

Judging from extant works of art, Chaucer's audience must have been thoroughly familiar with the design in which angels were feathered with peacock eyes. Such angels looked down from the wars of St. Stephen's chapel, Westminster.2 They adorned many embroider-

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Studies on Chaucer and His Audience
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 7
  • Contents 11
  • Table of Plates 13
  • Acknowledgments 15
  • Chapter I - Introduction 17
  • Chapter II - "Hir Hous the Chirche Of Seinte Cecilie Highte" 29
  • Chapter III - "The Pekok with His Aungels Fetheres Bryghte" 49
  • Chapter IV - "Allas Custaunce Thow Nast No Champioun" 67
  • Chapter V - "O Conquerour of Brutes Albyon" 89
  • Chapter VI - Conclusion 107
  • Notes 113
  • Index 121
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