Gower Bibliography

Genius's 'Enformacioun' in Book III of the Confessio Amantis

Simpson, James. "Genius's 'Enformacioun' in Book III of the Confessio Amantis." Mediaevalia 16 (1993), pp. 159-195.


Considers the complexity of structure of the CA. Simpson begins with Gower's frequent use of "enformacioun" and the related verb "enforme," which, he suggests, have more than the neutral modern sense, suggesting not just a body of knowledge but also its active effect upon the recipient, senses related to medieval philosophical ideas of "form." Imitating God's "forming" the elements and the soul of man according to a divine exemplar, the instruction in the poem will bring Amans' soul to self-knowledge and to its ideal "form." In Simpson's account, however, the process of instruction is not direct, but proceeds by way of the particular "form" of the poem, in which Genius is one participant in a dialogue among different faculties, representing the imagination or ingenium that mediates between will and reason. As such, he too is in need of "enformacioun," as he grows, during the course of the dialogue, into his proper function. Simpson surveys some familiar material here. He re-examines Genius' ancestry to demonstrate his width of sympathies, from rational to irrational; and he uses Book 3, one of the most problematic for Genius' role, as the source of examples for his analysis. At the beginning of the book, Genius' moral authority is questionable, as he seems to think rather like Pandarus, more interested in success in love than with rational control of sexual appetite. By the end of the book, however, under the prompting of Amans' questions, he moves towards conformity with reason, and shows through his tales "that personal ethics cannot be grounded on natural law alone; instead, the formation of a personal ethics demands a placing of the self within the human constraints which govern relationships in society more broadly. An ethics, that is, demands a politics" (p. 183). This is the central thematic message of the poem, according to Simpson; and the stories in the poem "are not only about the control of the will by reason, but they effect that very control in their listener Amans" (p. 185), as "Gower represents the naturally regenerative powers of the soul interacting with each other, bringing the will back into its proper mediation with, or conformity with the reason" (p. 187). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 13.1]

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Guest issue edited by Robert F. Yeager.
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata