Henryson's Figurative Technique in The Cock and the }asp


  • Philippa Bright


The Cock and the Jasp,l Henryson's fable about a cock who finds a precious jewel on a dunghill' only to discard it in favour of food, is one of the best known fables in his collection, yet it is also one in which his figurative methods have been consistently misunderstood. Most critics who have discussed the fable have felt that the cock is quite right in rejecting a precious jewel for which he has no use and have been surprised to discover in the moralitas that he is explicitly condemned for his folly. To account for the apparent reversal of their expectations they have usually adopted one of two positions: either they have concluded that the moralitas is a pious afterthought which has a purely arbitrary connexion with the preceding narrative or else they have argued that the shock of the unexpected interpretation is intentional and an essential part of the meaning of the fable. Both of these positions, however, are untenable since they are based on two quite erroneous assumptions, the first of which is that in the fable we are somehow dealing with a real barnyard fowl on a real dunghill and the second, that Henryson's poetic technique in the narrative causes us to sympathize with the cock's point of view.