Gower Bibliography

The Verse of Courtly Love in the Framing Narrative of the Confessio Amantis

Zeeman, Nicolette. "The Verse of Courtly Love in the Framing Narrative of the Confessio Amantis." Medium AEvum 60 (1991), pp. 222-240.


Examines the frame narrative of Confession Amantis as the confrontation of two very different aesthetics, that of the poetry of fin' amors, which provides the language with which Amans' experience is depicted, and that of the "ethical poetic" which provides the underlying structure to Gower's poem. The courtly love lyrics, the allegorical love narratives, and the dits amoureux set the extremes of love in an atemporal poetic stasis which offers an endless possibility of fulfillment, and deal evasively with any hint of change or the passing of time that might pose a threat to the endlessness of youth. Even the dits amoureux are more lyric than narrative, and when old age is invoked, as it is by both Machaut and Froissart in poems often mentioned as models for CA, it does not have the finality that it does for Amans, and does not undermine the poet's commitment to his love. There are numerous echoes of this earlier verse in the portrayal of Amans, and the same poetry allows the largely non-narrative nature of Gower's frame. Like his predecessors, moreover, Amans is allowed to ignore the logical implications of the cruelty of Fortune and of Love to his pursuit. The reader is thus encouraged to read the poem as a traditional dit amoureux, and also therefore to think of Amans as young. The revelation of Amans' old age closes the poem abruptly by revealing his unfitness for courtly love. Gower invokes here the view of old age found in two very different sources: that of classical and post-classical Latin poetry, where old age is a time of physical, particularly sexual, debility, and that of Raison in Jean de Meun's portion of RR, who argues that old age can lead the lover from the follies and instabilities of youth into virtue. The ending also places Amans directly in the world of change and time, Fortune, Nature, and Christian morality that the poetry of fin' amors seeks to deny. The collapse of the frame narrative, and of Amans' self-deception, is also a revelation of the deception that has been practiced on the reader. It makes of the frame narrative itself a figure of worldly instability and deception, and implicitly reduces all poetry of courtly love to mere delusion. Even Gower's naming of himself at the end, which would have reminded the audience of the poet's own old age, and which recalls the statement on the poet's "feigning to be a lover" in an early rubric, constitutes a comment on the fictive and delusive nature of all such narrative. Gower appropriates the aesthetic of his predecessors, therefore, in order to to subvert it, and uses the frame of his poem as another exemplum of the misleading nature of all experience in an unstable world. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.]

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

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