Gower’s blushing bird, Philomela’s transforming face

  • Mary C. Flannery

DOI: 10.1057/s41280-016-0036-9

Cite this article as:
Flannery, M.C. Postmedieval (2017) 8: 35. doi:10.1057/s41280-016-0036-9


The blushing face is the clearest sign of shame in medieval literature. But what happens when a blushing human is transformed into an animal? Such a metamorphosis raises questions about the embodiment of emotional experience and expression in the human form. Gower’s expansion on the metamorphosis of Philomela from a woman to a nightingale in Book V of the Confessio Amantis explores Philomela’s reconfiguring of the experience of shame as a direct result of her transformation. Is it the feeling of shame itself, or the act of blushing, that takes ontological priority? Gower’s association of Philomela’s loss of ‘face’ or honor with the loss of her human face reveals the entanglement of her human and animal identities and emotions.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary C. Flannery
    • 1
  1. 1.English DepartmentUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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