Gower Bibliography

Speaking of Sodomy: Gower's Advice to Princes in the Confessio Amantis.

Hanrahan, Michael. "Speaking of Sodomy: Gower's Advice to Princes in the Confessio Amantis." Exemplaria 14 (2002), pp. 423-446.


Book 7 of Confessio Amantis begins as an account of Aristotle's education of Alexander, and it concludes with the lesson on Chastity and with negative examples of lecherous rulers. "Gower's book of statecraft thus ends up offering an art of love as a manual of advice for rulers and in the process conflates sexual regulation and political rule" (428). Gower's strategy derives from a long tradition of criticism of Richard II and his counselors that "persistently focused on its alleged transgressive sexual practices" (423-24), culminating "in a politically motivated allegation of sodomy that sought to substantiate Richard's unfitness to rule and to justify Henry IV's usurpation of the throne" (424). Hanrahan begins with a discussion of the broad and often imprecise meanings of both "sodomy" and "unnatural" in contemporary texts, simultaneously designating that which was considered unspeakable and also a wide range of non-sexual acts. Gower reflects contemporary anxieties over the king's counselors both in VC Book 6 and in the CA Prologue, and in changing the dedication of CA to Henry of Derby, Gower appealed to an exemplary figure of good counsel. In Book 7, the discussion of chastity begins with the claim that lust effeminizes a man, echoing directly one of the charges that was laid against Richard and his court, for instance in Walsingham; and Genius' use of Sardanapalus, who finally lost his throne, as his example anticipates the later justification of Richard's deposition for the same cause. Though Gower never mentions sodomy by name, the allegation nonetheless "haunts" his poem (436), as it does the other texts that assert that lechery can lead men to become like women, and in his lessons in Book 7, "Gower creates a nexus of unnatural crimes that enmeshes his advice with implicit warnings against sodomitical practices" (437) . The implicit criticism of Richard extends to the linkage that Gower draws between Alexander and Richard as recipients of Aristotle's advice, for "born in treason and lust," as Genius demonstrates in his tale of Nectanabus in Book 6, "Alexander springs from the unnatural desires that Genius seeks to warn rulers against" (441). Hanrahan emphasizes the punishment of unnaturalness in the tales of "Lucrece," "Virginia," and "Tobias and Sara." The latter tale also anticipates Amans' "rejection of the sin against nature" in the poem's conclusion (443). Reformed, he has a vision of the court of Cupid dressed in the "newe guise of Beawme" (8.2970), a clear reference to the court of Richard II that identifies the king with ostentatiousness of dress and the pursuit of pleasure, the same "lecherous and luxurious practices that have transformed past rulers into effeminate men. Gower thus ends up offering his advice from the position of a reformed sodomite, and he effectively implicates the king as a sodomite in two ways: by offering negative examples of unnatural rulers for Richard's edification, and by providing his reformed persona as a model for the king to emulate" (445). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 22.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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