Gower Bibliography

Chaucer, Usk, and Geoffrey of Vinsauf

Burnley, J.D.. "Chaucer, Usk, and Geoffrey of Vinsauf." Neophilologus 69 (1985), pp. 284-93.


Burnley considers Gower along with Chaucer and Usk in his discussion of the knowledge of traditional Latin rhetoric by London poets of the end of the 14th century. Murphy (1962) drew heavily on Gower for his argument that there was no viable rhetorical tradition during Chaucer's and Gower's time. He was most vigorously opposed by Schmitz (1974), who insisted that Gower was not as ignorant as Murphy claimed, but that he deliberately rejected the rhetoric of ornament, which he associated with falsehood and deception, in favor of a "plain" rhetoric rooted in "trouthe" and "honestete" that directly reflected the moral concerns of his poem. Burnley takes a middle-of-the-road view. He decides that the three London poets "may have known something of the teaching of the rhetorics and the artes poeticae" (p. 291), but that they had not studied them systematically and their concepts of rhetoric and style were less technical and influenced by more general sources. Like Schmitz (whom he does not cite), he finds that there is "an implied moral significance" in the contrast that Gower (like Chaucer) draws between rhetorical ornament and plainness and honesty, but he attributes his use of "colour" and "peynte" in this context not to a conscious choice of a different rhetorical ideal but to "habitual expression which has been part of the common core of vocabulary for long enough to have shifted its sense" (p. 285). He concludes that Gower was less well-informed about traditional rhetoric than Chaucer was. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 7.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification

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