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The Poetic Voices of John Gower

The Poetic Voices of John Gower: Politics and Personae in the Confessio Amantis

Matthew W. Irvin
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    The Poetic Voices of John Gower
    Book Description:

    Gower's use of the persona, the figure of the writer implicated in the text, is the main theme of this book. While it traces the development of Gower's voice through his major works, it concentrates on the dialogue of Amans and Genius in the Confessio Amantis. It argues that Gower negotiates problems of politics and problems of love by means of an analogy between political ethics and the rules of fin amour; Amans and Genius are both drawn from and occupied with amatory and ethical traditions, and their discourse produces a series of attempts to find a coherent and rational union of lover and ruler. The volume also argues that Gower's goal is poetic as well as political: through the personae, Gower's readers experience the pains and pleasures of erotic and social love. Gower's personae voice potential responses to exemplary experience, prompting readers to feel and to judge, and moving them to become better lovers and better rulers. Gower's analogy between fin amour and politics brings the affects of the lover to the action of government, and suggests for both love and rule the moderation that brings peace and joy. Matthew W. Irvin is Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Chair of the Medieval Studies Program at Sewanee.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-206-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. x-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    John Gower’sConfessio Amantisis a poem about love. Amans, its love-struck protagonist, supposedly represents the young Gower, who once wrote “les fols ditz d’amour” (silly songs of love; MO 27340). Gower’s own experience in love, as he argues in Book I of theConfessio, qualifies him to discuss love’s place in the world. The proper place of love, and the lover, is the concern of this book.

    Part of that concern involves political prudence. Poems about love were poems for young men, and when Gower was writing theConfessioyoung men were in political power. Gower’s dedicatees, Richard II...

    (pp. 7-45)

    In herStudies in John Gower, Maria Wickert argues that “the problem of self-knowledge … is the central problem of Gower’s three major works and it, more than anything else, unites theMirour, [theVox Clamantis], and theConfessio.”¹ This self-knowledge is the philosophical ground for Gower’s entire poetry.² It requires the intellectual virtues, especially those of prudence and art, for the self that Gower investigates is a self that acts and creates amidst contingency. It is therefore a political and moral self, one that comes to self-knowledge through knowing its duties and rights, one that is subject to laws:...

    (pp. 46-73)

    While Gower will develop a dialogue of fictional personae throughout much of theConfessio Amantis, in the Prologue, Gower appears to speakin propria persona, but in a voice similar to that of thevox populi. The Prologue also shares similar concerns with thesermones ad statusin theMirourand theVox: the degeneration of the world, and the failure of the wise and prudent to understand the causes of that degeneration. For the first of these two problems there is no solution: Gower’s favorite image, Nebuchadnezzar’s Monster of Time, dominates the Prologue even in the illustrations,¹ and, as...

  8. Chapter 3 AMOROUS PERSONS
    (pp. 74-113)

    In Book I of theConfessio Amantis, Gower makes a major change in form. Gower’s introduction of Amans and Genius, the lover and the priest of Venus to whom the lover must confess, makes theConfessioradically different from his previous poems. While, like in theMirour, Gower produces asermo ad statusand something like asermo de vitiis, the confession frame with its fictional personae and exemplary mode of narrative is unlike theMirour, theVox, or theVisio.

    In this chapter, I will explore how Gower’s fictional personae reorganize his moral and prudential goals, especially in his...

    (pp. 114-156)

    In the previous chapter, I argued the “Tale of Florent” encourages clerical and noble readers to employ their respective resources to examine the moral value ofgentilesseand their own implication within it. The primary issue is the status ofgentilessein terms ofactioandfactio: is the code of courtly behavior and erotic love oriented toward real virtue in the real world, or is it a fiction, made to appear decorous and proper in order to screen immoral action? A close reading of the “Tale of Florent” shows that both of these are possible: while a certain kind...

  10. Chapter 5 LABOR AND ART
    (pp. 157-191)

    Throughout Books I, II, and III, Amans does little to challenge Genius’ analogous relationships between pity and piety, between literary affect and political identity, betweenfactioandactio. This is primarily because the persona of Amans has no real political identity; when Venus asks him, “What art thou, sone?” (I.154), he responds simply, “A caitif that lith hiere” (I.159).¹ Politically, “Amans” is not everyman but no-man, both in Venus’ court and in his lady’s; he completely accepts his status as servant to love, and worries only about the availability of grace. His passivity and fundamental lack of self-knowledge keep him...

    (pp. 192-226)

    Genius’ attempt to ground the lover’s virtue ongentilessereveals the alienation inherent in the lover-persona. While an account of noble virtue should entail an understanding of the proper place of the person in relationship to the common good and the structure and hierarchy of rule, Genius abstracts virtue from its political context, explicating it only as the pre-requisite for the “art” of love. While throughout much of the first three books Genius, superficially at least, has been an unchallenged authority, Books IV and V are characterized by increasing problems with Genius’ ability to rationalize erotic love as virtue, and...

  12. Chapter 7 THE LOVE OF KINGS
    (pp. 227-276)

    Over the course of Books IV and V, Genius has had to “modefie” his approach to include the discourses ofgentilesse, labor, and religion. However, even Genius’ “schame,” the exposure of Venus and Cupid as incestuous, licentious, unreasonable, and opposed to the order of divine justice, does not produce a radical or immediate break in the poem for either Genius or Amans. For instance, in the “Tale of Babio and Croceus,” Genius still speaks positively of “Cupides art” (V.4803), and explains how “Cupide and Venus eke/ A medicine for the seke/ Ordeigne” (V.4827), so that the young and lovely Viola...

    (pp. 277-288)

    The education and experience that produces the coherent prudence and the artful pleasure of the “Tale of Apollonius” does not produce the same result for Amans. Genius’ educational project has provided Amans with example after example, but Amans’ alienated power of choice has made true experience impossible. From each example he takes the same lesson: he might yet get his desire, the gods of love might still grant him grace, Genius might yet give him the key to the art of love. Therefore, at the end of the “Tale of Apollonius” when Amans and Genius express that they have “herd...

    (pp. 289-304)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 305-315)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-317)