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Parlement of Foules

The "Parlement of Foules" (also known as the "Parliament of Fowls," "Parlement of Briddes," "Assembly of Fowls" or "Assemble of Foules," is a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343?-1400) made up by approximately 700 lines.

There are fourteen manuscript sources for the poem (MS Gg 4.27; MS Findern Ff 16; MS Harley 7333; MS Trinity R 3.19; MS Selden B.24; MS Hh.4.12; MS Pepys 2006; MS St. John’s J 57; MS Laud Misc. 416; MS Fairfax 16; MS Bodley 638; MS Tanner 346; MS Longleat 258; and MS Digby 181), although William Caxton’s early print of 1478 is also considered authoritative. The stemma and genealogy of these authorities was established by Eleanor Prescott Hammond in 1902, dividing them into two main groups, A and B (last five MSS), although criticism has serious doubts about its accuracy.

Concerning the author of the poem, there is no doubt that it was written by Chaucer, for so he tells us twice in his works. The first time is in the Introduction (Prologue) to The Legend of Good Women: “He made the book that hight the Hous of Fame,/ And eke the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse,/ And the Parlement of Foules, as I gesse” (Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, 1987: 600). The second allusion is found in the Retractation to The Canterbury Tales: “the book of the Duchesse; the book of Seint Valentynes day of the Parlement of Briddes” (Benson 1987: 328).

A more difficult question is that of the date. Early criticism of the poem, as far as the first decades of the 20th century, relied mainly on the different interpretations of the text--comparing the fight for the female eagle with royal betrothals of the age--to produce a date of composition for the poem. Robinson himself (Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 1957: 791) mentions that "if the theories of allegory in the Parliament are rejected, the principal evidence usually relied on for dating the poem about 1381-2 disappears." Later criticism, however, is much more objective on the reasons why the poem has been dated in 1382, the main reason given in lines 117-118 of the poem itself: "As wisly as I sawe the [Venus], northe northe west/ When I begane my sweuene for to write," for according to J. M. Manly (1913: 279-90) Venus is never strictly in the position "north-north-west," but it can be easily thought to be so when it reaches its extreme northern point. Manly adds that this condition was met in May 1374, 1382, and 1390. The third date is easily discarded since we know that the poem is already mentioned as composed in the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women. Derek Brewer (1960: 104) then argues that the date of 1382, as opposed to that of 1374, is much more likely for the composition of the poem since, during the same period (1373-85), Chaucer wrote many other works including The House of Fame which, in all respects, seems to have been composed earlier than "The Parliament of Fowls," thus: "a very reasonable, if not certain, date for the Parlement is that it was begun in May 1382, and was ready for St. Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1383" (Brewer, 1960: 104). Although much of the criticism on the interpretation of "The Parliament of Fowls"--which would render clues for its date of composition--is contradictory, and criticism about the importance of line 117 does not agree on whether it can be taken as serious evidence for the dating of the poem, there is nowadays a general agreement among scholars as to 1381-1382 being the date of composition for "The Parliament of Fowls."