Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Chaucer, “The Complaint of Mars”

What is it?

  • 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.

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.

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?

Recommended Reading:

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).