Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
What is it?
It's certainly occasional: a Valentine's Day poem. Valentine's Day was
observed as a court holiday and did not filter down until later.
- An astronomical allegory for planetary events in a particular year?
By consensus, 1385 fits best; but exact conditions occurred at no time
between 1369 and 1400.
And what about the Proem and Complaint proper?
- An allegory of a court scandal?
Copyist John Shirley's rubric states the poem was "made" by Chaucer
at the command of John of Gaunt.
- A mumming? An aristocratic entertainment?
The poem survives in 8 manuscripts, so it was popular at court. Perhaps
it connects to the orders of the flower and the leaf at court -- the
vague ritualistic gaming.
The complaint is atypically highlighted; performance is announced and
addressed to knights, ladies, and lovers finally.
Why the bird persona? (One hopes Chaucer did not have to recite in
a duck suit....)
Why is the complaint unintegrated?
Evidence of prior composition and tacked on?
Evidence that it is specific to this situation?
Williams, George. A New View of Chaucer. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 1965. Chapter II: Chaucer and John of Gaunt, and
his chapter on the "Complaint of Mars" (56-65).