The Owl and the Nightingale is one of the first and greatest long comic poems in the English language and one of the best-known and most accomplished of all medieval literary texts. By turns both gleefully trivial and allusively serious, it has been described by literary critics as a "most miraculous piece of writing," "a marvel of literary art" and "a truly amazing phenomenon." There is no other edition currently in print and this is the first new English edition of the poem since 1960.
The book contains a lively parallel-text translation in modern English, as well as a glossary, notes and Introduction. The edition has involved a complete reconsideration of the poem's complex textual history, its linguistic provenance and the practices of its scribes, as well as its possible sources.
"[Cartlidge] provides a complete glossary and exhaustive bibliography, and an entertaining appendix of comparable works on owls, nightingales, hawks and jealous husbands. His parallel-text translation is exemplary: transparent and lucid, and with more claim to expressive grace than Cartlidge makes for it. This is an edition equally valuable for the student and the specialist." (Times Literary Supplement, March 2002) "In preparing this new critical edition of the delightful Middle English debate poem, The Owl and the Nightingale, Cartlidge has followed the principle that `a book like this one should be able to serve the needs of both experts and novices in medieval literature... Cartlidge's chosen format does indeed enhance the enjoyment of this brilliantly zany work, highly complex both culturally and linguistically, by offering a first approach unencumbered by the weight of scholarly discussion past and present, while making available to those who wish to make use of it a really impressive scholarly apparatus. . . The Owl and the Nightingale . . . provides the lucid and balanced summing up of the editor's conclusions, and . . . the reader, whether or not he agrees with Cartlidge, is clearly informed as to the primary and secondary sources should he wish to consult them in support of his own opinion or simply to increase his understanding of the poem." (Notes and Queries, Vol. 50, No. 1, March 2003) "My impression of the Owl and the Nightingale, a thirteenth-century Middle English debate poem, has significantly altered after having read Neil Cartlidge's excellent new edition, with parallel column translation and extensive scholarly apparatus... In the translation, Cartlidge has tried to be as "idiomatic and fluid" (166) as possible. It is accurate, and a welcome aid for anyone, especially novice readers of Middle English... Cartlidge's notes and excellent glossary are there to resolve semantic questions and quibbles." (The Medieval Review, January 2003) "It is a notable coincidence that Exeter University Press should have published within a month or so of each other editions of two of the most celebrated early Middle English poems... Neil Cartlidge's is a very different sort of edition. While every effort had been made to make the text accessible to the nonspecialist, it also has all the qualities expected of a scholarly edition and is certain to become the reference text for The Owl and the Nightingale. The book is clearly designed to accommodate a wide range of readers. The translation, printed in a column facing the original poem (rather than on a facing page), is a pleasant read in its own right, lively and in tune with the spirit of the original; but the proximity of the Middle English constantly entices the eye back to the medieval text, thus encouraging students to engage critically with Cartlidge's interpretation... This makes Cartlidge's edition the ideal classroom textbook, suitable for all levels of students. Even the comprehensive scholarly bibliography at the end of the volume is introduced by a short annotated reading list for non-specialists to take as a starting point for further research... This is scholarship at its best; it will certainly stimulate the interest of a new generation of medievalists in a poem that is as intriguing as it is entertaining." (Journal of English and Germanic Philology, April 2004)