Gower Bibliography

From Revenge to Reform: The Changing Face of 'Lucrece' and Its Meaning in Gower's Confessio Amantis

Bertolet, Craig E. "From Revenge to Reform: The Changing Face of 'Lucrece' and Its Meaning in Gower's Confessio Amantis." Philological Quarterly 70 (1991), pp. 403-421.


Bertolet surveys the development of the story of Lucretia from its earliest surviving classical versions, in Livy and Ovid, through its most important medieval retellings to its appearance in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women and Gower's Confession Amntis. The medieval versions, beginning with Jerome and Augustine, show an increasing interest in the predicament of Lucretia and a preoccupation with the individual soul, and a corresponding lack of interest in the social dimensions of the story, including the role of the family of the victim and the overthrow of the tyranny and oppression represented by the rape. Chaucer too focuses on the personal rather than the public aspect of the story. Gower, however, returns to the emphases of Livy's version, giving central importance to the two male characters, Aruns and Brutus; denouncing Aruns' betrayal of both civic and social responsibility, and of both kingship and kinship; and casting the story as a struggle between a willful tyrant and the power of the people. Aruns exemplifies the central sin of "division"; Brutus exemplifies the love of family and of nation as a unitive principle. Brutus' role as reformer resembles that which Gower assumes for himself, as spokesman of the voice of the people seeking restoration of order and of peace. And Aruns' fate constitutes a warning to the king of the dangers of popular revolt, a warning that went unheeded as Richard suffered the same fate as Aruns when the future Henry IV assumed the role of Brutus. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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