Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Alison Hickey


In his groundbreaking essay, “The Hoodwinking of Madeline,” Jack Stillinger first posited a darker reading of Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes, arguing that Keats’ mention in the poem of a “tongueless nightingale” is a calculated allusion to the story of Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Since Stillinger published his essay in 1961, not much else has been written on the subject, with the exception of Beverly Fields’ 1983 article, “Keats and the Tongueless Nightingale: Some Unheard Melodies in ‘The Eve of St. Agnes.’ ” In this essay, Fields suggests that Keats killed off the “tongueless nightingale” at the conclusion of The Eve of St. Agnes and thus divorced the nightingale from its association with Philomela when the bird reappears in Keats’ ode. This thesis largely argues against Fields’ interpretation by taking a closer look at the Ovidian myth and its subsequent legacy in the English poetic canon to consider, from a feminist lens, how Keats inherits and re-engages with the myth. For much of the history of English literature, all the English poets of the canon were to some degree Classicists. Even Keats, who was ridiculed by contemporary critics for his Enfield education and his inability to read Greek, would have read Ovid. Therefore Chapter One, ‘Classical Contexts,’ returns to the Classical myth of Philomela and its context in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to look at significant themes of the story and theories of approaching it. Then in Chapter Two, ‘Lines of Influence,’ I turn to Keats’ “tongueless nightingale” in The Eve of St. Agnes and his engagement with Shakespeare’s (as well as Ovid’s) Philomel in that poem. Finally, in the third chapter I move to “Ode to a Nightingale” as well as the poem most directly in conversation with it – “Ode on a Grecian Urn” – to consider how Philomel might resurface in this second nightingale of Keats’ and what meaning(s) could be gained by searching for her echoes here.