Gower Bibliography

The Man of Law's Tale: What Chaucer Really Owed to Gower

Nicholson, Peter. "The Man of Law's Tale: What Chaucer Really Owed to Gower." Chaucer Review 23 (1991), pp. 163-181. ISSN 0009-2002


Chaucer had two sources for Man of Law's Tale, Gower's tale of Constance, and Gower's source, the version of the story in Trevet's "Chronicles." Most earlier studies (notably Block's) have simply assumed that Trevet was Chaucer's principal source, and have credited Gower only with a few small details that Trevet does not provide. A fairer consideration of the three texts side by side not only restores some of the importance of Gower's version, but also yields a very different picture of how Chaucer set about composing MLT. The basic story, of course, is identical in all three versions. In his choice of details, Chaucer can often be found turning from one source to the other, suggesting that he had MS copies of each before him as he worked. The most general difference between Gower's version and Trevet's is that Gower's is much shorter and more carefully focused: it is Gower who first raises Constance herself above the background of the chronicle account of her life, and who first emphasizes the pathos of the story. Gower also found a way of sharpening the focus of each episode, and of providing a memorable image or picture where Trevet was scattered or diffuse. In all these respects Chaucer consistently followed Gower's model, and it appears that both in the way that he visualized the story and in his general strategy for presenting it, it was Gower's tale rather than Trevet's that Chaucer chose to retell. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.1]

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

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