Tag Archives: comedy

Back when the birds spoke Gaelic

Species: A tawny owl (Strix aluco) and magpie (Pica pica) have a battle of wits and it gets UGLY. An ambiguous grey bird is the judge.

Source: ‘Dàn mu Chonaltradh’ (English title: The Colloquy of the Birds).

Date: Modern! First published 1798, and written a few years before.

Highlights: Once upon a time, long ago, birds could speak Gaelic. Here’s the most famous example.

Magpies from Addition MS 26968 fol.282v. Owl from Harley 2887, fol.29. Both images are in the public domain because of their age.

Magpies from Addition MS 26968 fol.282v. Owl from Harley 2887, fol.29. Both images are in the public domain because of their age.

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Chaucer’s Weasel: A Love Story

weasel

Least weasel (M. nivalis) photographed by Medien-gbr and licensed for use under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

In one of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, the main character Alisoun is described as a weasel. Most scholars have taken this as a parody of courtly love, a sign of Alisoun’s promiscuity or the character’s weakness. Could this actually be a complement?

Species: A ‘wesele’. The term was generic in the medieval period  but most probably referred to Mustela nivalis, M. erminia or M. putorius.

Source: ‘The Miller’s Tale’, Chaucer’s most adult and therefore most well-known story.

Date: c.1380-1400.

Highlights: Alisoun, the main female character is compared to a weasel in her introduction. How could Chaucer say that about the poor innocent girl? Oh I remember. She’s a right weasel.

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The Lovers and Chameleons of Shakespeare

Looking at references to the chameleon in Shakespeare’s ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ can reveal some surprising things. Chameleons were once thought to live on nothing but air, and therefore make perfect metaphorical comparisons for those in unrequited love.

Species: Some kind of chameleon (Chamaeleonid sp.)
Source: ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, perhaps Shakespeare’s first play.
Date: c.1589-91.
Highlights: Considering how often Shakespeare uses the semantic field of feasting to describe love, comparing people to chameleons (who were thought to never eat) was an especially effective insult…

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