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John Gower, Trilingual Poet

John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition

Edited by Elisabeth Dutton
John Hines
R. F. Yeager
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 370
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  • Book Info
    John Gower, Trilingual Poet
    Book Description:

    John Gower wrote in three languages - Latin, French, and English - and their considerable and sometimes competing significance in fourteenth-century England underlies his trilingualism. The essays collected in this volume start from Gower as trilingual poet, exploring Gower's negotiations between them - his adaptation of French sources into his Latin poetry, for example - as well as the work of medieval translators who made Gower's French poetry available in English. "Translation" is also considered more broadly, as a "carrying over" (its etymological sense) between genres, registers, and contexts, with essays exploring Gower's acts of translation between the idioms of varied literary and non-literary forms; and further essays investigate Gower's writings from literary, historical, linguistic, and codicological perspectives. Overall, the volume bears witness to Gower's merit and his importance to English literary history, and increases our understanding of French and Latin literature composed in England; it also makes it possible to understand and to appreciate fully the shape and significance of Gower's literary achievement and influence, which have sometimes suffered in comparison to Chaucer. Elisabeth Dutton is Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. Contributors: Elisabeth Dutton, Jean Pascal Pouzet, Ethan Knapp, Carolyn P. Collette, Elliot Kendall, Robert R. Edwards, George Shuffleton, Nigel Saul, David Carlson, Candace Barrington, Andreea Boboc, Tamara F. O'Callaghan, Stephanie Batkie, Karla Taylor, Brian Gastle, Matthew Irvin, Peter Nicholson, J.A. Burrow, Holly Barbaccia, Kim Zarins, Richard F. Green, Cathy Hume, John Bowers, Andrew Galloway, R.F. Yeager, Martha Driver

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-887-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Editorial Note
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    2008 marked the 600th anniversary of the death of the poet John Gower, the author of major works in french, latin and english, and highly respected, on a level with Chaucer, in the centuries following his death. Since the late seventeenth century, and particularly for academic literary critics of the twentieth century, however, Chaucer’s pre-eminence has been invidious to the study of Gower. It is only recently that a body of scholarship has begun to recognize the individual character and importance of Gower’s literary influence and to re-establish his reputation. Gower has more often been discussed only for purposes of...

  7. Gower at Source

    • Chapter 1 Southwark Gower: Augustinian Agencies in Gower’s Manuscripts and Texts – Some Prolegomena
      (pp. 11-25)

      John Gower’s long-standing association with the community of Augustinian canons at the priory of St Mary ‘Over(e) y’ in Southwark is variously documented,¹ but the influence of this singular relationship has not always been fully considered in studies of the poet’s literary activities. In terms of internal textual evidence, for instance, G.C. Macaulay signalled the technical use ofcorrodiumin book IV (line 215) of theVox Clamantisas a possible reflection of the poet’s allowance of a corrody by the priory for his sustenance – probably in return for an endowment to the community.² More significantly, while arguments put forward...

  8. Gower Looking East

    • Chapter 2 The Place of Egypt in Gower’s Confessio Amantis
      (pp. 26-34)

      When we think about the inheritance of a classical past, we tend to think towards Greece and towards Rome. Of course, as medievalists, there are very many good reasons to do so. The dominance of ecclesiastical Latinity, its works disseminated through the network of the Roman church, tied the most significant intellectual trends of the era to a culture that was palpably rooted in the shared inheritance of this Greco-Roman past. And in the world of vernacular literature the varied romance traditions laboured mightily to tell the story of the descent of contemporary aristocratic cultures from their progenitors in Rome,...

    • Chapter 3 Topical and Tropological Gower: Invoking Armenia in the Confessio Amantis
      (pp. 35-45)

      Gower’sConfessio Amantisis famous for its semiotic and narrative complexity: it is a text that deploys familiar exemplary narratives redirected to unexpected or puzzling moral lessons. The question of ‘how the poem means’ has posed a continual challenge to modern scholars, many of whom have explicated the text within the broad paradigm of reader-response criticism, identifying the reader’s mind as the site where meaning is created in response to the various elements of the text.¹ In its mixture of didacticism and indeterminacy, in its implicit focus on how meaning can be implied and inferred, the text reflects aspects of...

  9. Politics, Prophecy and Apocalypse

    • 4 Saving History: Gower’s Apocalyptic and the New Arion
      (pp. 46-58)

      In the Prologue toConfessio Amantis, apocalyptic is the vehicle for a farreaching statement about the shape of history and about good political order. This is political theology of a different order from the noon-day demon and animal armageddon fireworks ofVox Clamantis.¹ The thoroughness of the poem’s apocalyptic indicates how full and theorized is theConfessio’s idea of earthly politics. The Prologue’s apocalyptic history is mirrored in the lover’s personal, penitential apocalypse at the end of the poem. This implies a fulcrum between the political and the personal, and this fulcrum bears a special, politically positive load in Gower’s idiosyncratic...

    • Chapter 5 Gower’s Poetics of the Literal
      (pp. 59-73)

      Critics have long worked within a settled, if not wholly satisfying, consensus about John Gower’s narrative art in theConfessio Amantis: whatever else he may be as a moralist, social thinker or political theorist, Gower is a poet of narrative economy. Early in the last century, G.C. Macaulay noted Gower’s ‘gift of clear and interesting narrative’ and his ‘natural taste for simplicity’.¹ Near mid-century, derek Pearsall observed that Gower gives ‘local, imaginative truth to general, abstract truth’, while arno esch found a ‘directness of description’ in Gower’s tales.² In recent decades Gower’s narrative economy has furnished a rationale for other...

    • Chapter 6 Romance, Popular Style and the Confessio Amantis: Conflict or Evasion?
      (pp. 74-84)

      Given the scope of Gower’sConfessio Amantis, sometimes the most surprising choices are the omissions, the stories Gower choosesnotto tell. in book IV’s discussion of sloth and the various sins of idleness in love, Genius turns to the need for young men to remain active lest they lose the love of their ladies. It is, on the face of things, an ideal subject for romance, as Genius recognizes:

      For if thou wolt the bokes rede

      Of Lancelot and othre mo,

      Ther miht thou sen hou it was tho

      Of armes, for thei wolde atteigne

      To love, which withoute...

    • Chapter 7 John Gower: Prophet or Turncoat?
      (pp. 85-97)

      For an historian, particularly a political historian, one of the key questions about Gower relates to his consistency. Was he actually, as Chaucer called him, ‘moral Gower’? Did he stick to a consistent set of positions throughout his career? Or did he trim his views to suit the changing political wind? To be precise, was he a man of integrity? Or did he sink in his later years into the role of sad apologist for the lancastrian monarchy?

      The question which is raised here is hardly a new one. it is a quite old – not to say, a slightly old-fashioned...

    • Chapter 8 The Parliamentary Source of Gower’s Cronica Tripertita and Incommensurable Styles
      (pp. 98-111)

      Gower’s last long piece of writing, theCronica Tripertitaof early 1400, is written in the most verbally ornate style the poet used: 1062 lines of leonine hexameters (though with a single pentameter linein fine), the rhymes consistently disyllabic, with also some couplet formations; not having quite the complexity of the work of some near-contemporary anglo-latin poets, perhaps; yet Gower sustained what was for others fundamentally a lyric style over the course of a lengthy historical ennarration. though unparalleled, even original in style, the poem is also altogether derivative in its substance and shape: theCronicamakes verse of...

  10. Science, Law and Economy

    • Chapter 9 John Gower’s Legal Advocacy and ‘In Praise of Peace’
      (pp. 112-125)

      In his second and final English poem, known to us as ‘in Praise of Peace’, John Gower declares to King Henry IV, ‘Mi liege lord, tak hiede of that Y seie’ (‘Praise’, line 82); he thereby presents himself as the king’s adviser, a role in all of Gower’s poems identified as the ‘most significant’ by George Coffman.¹ Subsequent essays by Paul Strohm, Frank Grady and Michael Livingston have shown how ‘In Praise of Peace’ confirms this advisory role by presenting Gower as an insider able to repeat the official Lancastrian argument justifying Henry’s claim to the English throne but also...

    • Chapter 10 Se-duction and Sovereign Power in Gower’s Confessio Amantis Book V
      (pp. 126-138)

      In book V of theConfessio AmantisGower surprisingly compares perjury, a serious crime in the king’s court, to amatory seduction, a lesser moral offence which ecclesiastical courts ranked in importance well behind rape and adultery.¹ These dissimilar wrongdoings share a motive – ‘coveitise’, which, according toMED, means both ‘immoderate desire for acquiring worldly goods or estate’ and ‘strong sexual desire’ for women.² The comparison between lands and women as objects of desire is warranted by men’s proprietary interest in their sisters’, wives’ or daughters’ chastity:

      … Sicut agros cupidus dum querit amans mulieres,

      Vult testes falsos falsus habere suos....

    • Chapter 11 The Fifteen Stars, Stones and Herbs: Book VII of the Confessio Amantis and its Afterlife
      (pp. 139-156)

      As M.A. Manzalaoui has noted, to choose book VII of John Gower’sConfessio Amantisas a topic is to load oneself with the handicap of a subject most critics have found particularly dull.¹ Furthermore, the passage from book VII describing the fifteen stars, stones and herbs is a subject most critics have entirely dismissed. With the exception of Patricia eberle,² those few scholars who have deigned to comment on the passage find it to be simply pedantic.³ While each of the previous six books of the Confessio focuses on one of the deadly sins, book vii is immediately a significant...

    • Chapter 12 ‘Of the parfite medicine’: Merita Perpetuata in Gower’s Vernacular Alchemy
      (pp. 157-168)

      When one speaks of models of virtuous, productive labour in the medieval period, the alchemist is not a figure that springs immediately to mind. In the sixteenth century Reginald scot lambastes those who made use of alchemical language and practices as ‘ranke couseners, and consuming cankers to the common wealth, and therefore to be rejected and excommunicated from the fellowship of all honest men’, a forceful opinion which is far from unfamiliar in earlier centuries.¹ In fact, outside of those who claim to practise alchemy and produce texts of their own, it seems that little good can be said about...

    • Chapter 13 Inside Out in Gower’s Republic of Letters
      (pp. 169-181)

      InI Henry IVShakespeare found the perfect metaphor to stage the political tumult of Gower’s England. Facing off against his erstwhile supporters in the climactic battle of Shrewsbury, Henry, the traitor turned king, spreads confusion by disguising several lieutenants in his own coat of arms, so that the rebels cannot recognize the true king. The Earl of Douglas’s military frustration adumbrates Henry iv’s political problem as well:

      DOUGLAS Another king? they grow like Hydra’s heads.

      I am the Douglas, fatal to all those

      That wear those colors on them. What art thou

      That counterfeit’st the person of a king?...

    • Chapter 14 Gower’s Business: Artistic Production of Cultural Capital and The Tale of Florent
      (pp. 182-195)

      The prologue to the first recension of theConfessio Amantisdescribes the now-famous patronage scene, wherein King Richard commands that the narrator ‘som newe thing I sholde boke’ (Confessio, Prol., line 51).¹ This scene takes place upon the Thames, ‘under the toun of newe troye’, after the narrator has left his own boat and come aboard the royal barge at the king’s request. It is one of the few literal manifestations of london we have in Gower’s poetry and remarkable also in its representation of literary patronage. As Robert Epstein states, ‘it becomes difficult to find in Gower’s writing any...

  11. Sin, Love, Sex and Gender

    • Chapter 15 Genius and Sensual Reading in the Vox Clamantis
      (pp. 196-205)

      When Gower made Genius a central figure in theConfessio Amantishe had already employed venus’s priest once before, inVox Clamantisbook IV, chapters 13—14. Chapters 13 and 14 seem to be a rather typical indictment of weak-willed femininity, as suggested by the heading of Chapter 13: ‘Hic loquitur vlterius de mulieribus, que in habitu moniali sub sacre religionis velo professionem suscipientes ordinis sui continenciam non obseruant’ (Here, he [Gower] speaks further concerning the women who, in the habits of nuns making profession of vows under the sacred veil of religion, do not observe due continence).¹ However, Gower...

    • Chapter 16 Irony v. Paradox in the Confessio Amantis
      (pp. 206-216)

      Some of the best of the recent published criticism of theConfessio Amantishas given us some challenging new ways of understanding both the structure of the poem and the nature of Gower’s moral project. To cite only three examples: we have James simpson’s recasting of the entire dialogue between amans and Genius as a kind ofpsychomachiabetween Will and imagination; Diane Watt’s argument, inAmoral Gower, that instead of advocating a single stable morality the poem actually offers a sustained critique of the possibility of any consistent moral principles; and J. Allen Mitchell’s argument that what morality is...

    • Chapter 17 Sinning Against Love in Confessio Amantis
      (pp. 217-229)
      J. A. BURROW

      Confessio Amantiswas, I believe, the first medieval poem to apply the priestly scheme of the seven deadly sins systematically to the cause of love. Since that scheme of the sins purported to cover the whole of human experience, one might suppose that Gower would have found a great deal to his purpose in treatments of love to be found in the clerical tradition, as if the job were already half done for him there. But this was evidently far from the case. The nearest way to see this is to read Gower’s own earlier general treatment of the sins...

    • Chapter 18 The Woman’s Response in John Gower’s Cinkante Balades
      (pp. 230-238)

      In John Gower’s anglo-french lyric cycle, theCinkante Balades, the fivepoem woman’s series marks a critical moment. Gower positions the woman’s response within the last fifth of the cycle, grouping her apparently contradictory poems together as a self-contained series, Balades 41—44 and 46. Mathematically one-tenth of the whole, the woman’s response to the male speaker nevertheless occupies much emotional space in the cycle.¹ Gower’s male speaker begs for, describes and reacts to the woman’s poems repeatedly in his own Balades. Comparing her and her replies to diamond, marble, rock and crystal, the male speaker learns to praise his beloved’s...

    • Chapter 19 Rich Words: Gower’s Rime Riche in Dramatic Action
      (pp. 239-253)

      Close readings of Gower’s poetry are not as common as broader or more thematic assessments, but such attention highlights the linguistic skill which makes Gower fit to stand with Chaucer among england’s early makers of poetry. This essay will compare the two poets by exploring a particular formal aspect, namelyrime riche, in which rhyme partners appear identical but diverge in meaning. Rich rhyme has received attention from scholars in diverse periods and provinces, most notably in tony Hunt’s recent book on Gautier de Coincy,Miraculous Rhymes.¹ A medieval aesthetic that used such rhymes was once described almost apologetically by...

    • Chapter 20 Florent’s Mariage sous la potence
      (pp. 254-262)

      In his contribution to a recent collection of essays on the English ‘Loathly Lady’ tales, Russell a. Peck makes a persuasive case for John Gower’s tale of florent being ‘the first sustained loathly lady narrative in english literature’, and thus the direct source of Chaucer’sWife of Bath’s Tale.¹ This narrative tells of a knight accused of murder (though he has in fact killed his man in a fair fight) who is offered a reprieve on condition that he can discover what it is that all women most desire. at his wit’s end to answer this conundrum, he encounters a...

    • Chapter 21 Why did Gower Write the Traitié?
      (pp. 263-275)

      R. F. Yeager’s 2005 article asks: ‘WhydidGower write two sequences of ballades in french?’¹ In this essay I want to reopen the question of why one of the two sequences, theTraitié pour essampler les amantz marietz, was written, and propose a new reason for its composition, a new intended audience and perhaps a new date. It must be said that theTraitié’sframing material discourages this kind of investigation: Gower makes clear statements about the reason for its composition and its intended audience. the modern title of the poem, given to it by Macaulay, comes from the...

  12. Gower ‘Translated’

    • Chapter 22 Rival Poets: Gower’s Confessio and Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women
      (pp. 276-287)

      TheMan of Law’s Talewas based on the account of Constance’s travels written first by John Gower, andThe Wife of Bath’s Talederives from the tale of florent inConfessio Amantis.¹ The fact that both of Chaucer’s source-texts occur early in Gower’s collection even suggests some preliminary access to theConfessioas a work-in-progress in the late 1380s. In addition to sharing manuscripts back and forth, literary rivalry can be detected in Chaucer’s attempts at re-writing these tales, some playful competition rather than the quarrel speculated by thomas tyrwhitt in the 1770s.²In The Man of Law’s Prologue,...

    • Chapter 23 Reassessing Gower’s Dream-Visions
      (pp. 288-303)

      Even by his apologists Gower is not considered a master of the dream-vision, though he has gained a minor – I think too minor – reputation as one of its demolishers. Most surveys of medieval dream-vision poetry fail to include his uses of dream-visions at all. A.C. Spearing’s foundational discussionMedieval Dream-Poetryomits Gower, no doubt because theConfessio Amantishas as a whole only a questionable claim to being in the dream-vision tradition.¹ Kathryn lynch’sHigh Medieval Dream-Visionincludes theConfessiobut, in some ways more strangely, does not focus mainly on Gower’s explicit dream-visions, in that poem or others. Instead,...

    • Chapter 24 John Gower’s French and His Readers
      (pp. 304-314)
      R. F. YEAGER

      The collected works of the English poet John Gower, who died in 1408, run to about 30,000 lines divided into latin, Middle English and some form of french, at roughly a third each. Linguistically speaking he deserves to be called, as he often is, a bit of a fence-sitter, or a bet-hedger, but there is of course another way to look at Gower’s three languages. Indeed, he suggests it himself (for I am quite convinced that the words are his own) in a Latin poem supposedly penned by ‘a certain philosopher’ and known, from its first two words, as ‘Eneidos,...

    • Chapter 25 Conjuring Gower in Pericles
      (pp. 315-326)

      Though John Gower’s poetry is now rarely regarded as central to medieval studies, his work was popularly read and very well known in the early modern period. the figure of the poet Gower ‘that first garnisshed our englysshe rude’ is mentioned five times in John skelton’sGarland of Laurel, and Gower is cited or appears subsequently as an emblem of a great poet in early modern works by Robert Greene, Ben Jonson and John Webster.¹ The poet Gower further appears as the central player in William shakespeare’sPericles, Prince of Tyre, in which he is given sustained dramatic life well...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-352)
  14. Index
    (pp. 353-358)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-359)