Gower Bibliography

Designs for Reading: Some Manuscripts of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'

Echard, Siân. "Designs for Reading: Some Manuscripts of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'." Trivium 31 (1999), pp. 59-72.


Siân Echard's essay is concerned with the relationship between the design of the MSS of CA and what it can imply about the reception and reading of Gower's work. Echard focuses on four MSS, including two deluxe copies, British Library, MS Harley 7184 (Macaulay's H3) and MS Egerton 1991 (E), and two plainer copies, London, College of Arms, MS Arundel 45 (Ar) and Cambridge, St. John's College, MS B.12 (J). In her comparison, she considers such elements as the hierarchy of script, the use of capitals, the color and placement of the Latin verses and glosses, the number and placement of speaker markers, the appearance of other marginal indications of textual divisions, and the use of borders and miniatures. In considering the effects of each of these on how the poem was read, she asks some of the same questions that Richard Emmerson poses in his recent essay in SAC (see JGN 19, no. 1, pp. 5-8), but she takes into account a far wider variety of features and she is also far more conscious of the uniqueness of each copy. She is consequently rather less dogmatic in her conclusions and hypothesizes a wider variety of ways in which these copies might have been used by their earliest readers. In the more ornate copies, appearance seems to be given much more importance than assisting the reader either in understanding or in finding her place in the text, while some at least of the plainer copies seem to be better suited for actual reading. The possibility of public reading by professional "prelectors" (using Joyce Coleman's term) as opposed to purely private reading complicates the matter and makes it more difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the intended purpose, particularly of the more richly decorated copies. Echard also points to features that give greater or lesser attention to the Latin portions of the text and different relative weight to the stories and the frame, but her conclusion is appropriately open-ended. "The manuscripts," she writes, "may be telling us a great deal that we have not yet heard about the reading of Gower's poem" (p. 72). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 20.1]

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Volume 31 of Trivium is a special issue: "Sources, Exemplars, and Copy-Texts: Influence and Transmission; Essays from the Lampeter Conference of the Early Book Society, 1997"
Subjects:Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Confessio Amantis

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