Gower Bibliography

Latin Structure and Vernacular Space: Gower, Chaucer and the Boethian Tradition

Wetherbee, Winthrop. "Latin Structure and Vernacular Space: Gower, Chaucer and the Boethian Tradition." In Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. ELS Monograph Series (51). Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, 1991, pp. 7-35.

Review

Reopens the question of Gower's relation to Boethius "De Consolatione Philosophiae" and to the well-known allegorical works that derived from it, notably Alan de Lille's "De Planctu Naturae" and RR. DCP, he claims, is less straightforward a work than is usually supposed, for in the dialogue between Lady Philosophy and the "Prisoner," its broadest philosophical affirmations are consistently punctuated, and undermined, by existential doubt. It also leaves unresolved a contradiction between two roles attributed to Nature: one the benevolent universal order, and the other, a constraint upon the freedom and aspirations of the individual. DPN preserves the same ambiguity regarding Nature and creates the same sort of irresolution, but it also suggests a different way of measuring human love in its brief echoes of the diction of courtly vernacular poetry. Jean de Meun's portion of RR continues the interplay of the "courtly" and "cosmic" perspectives, setting the model for CA. Gower's poem is also concerned with the relation between human life and the larger natural order, but like all of these, it sees this relation largely in terms of uncertainty rather than resolution. The Prologue, for instance, raises a number of serious issues, but offers no coherent definition of man's "nature" or of his relation to the larger cosmos. The same uncertainty is reflected in other ways in Gower's design. The functions of the dialogue in DCP, Wetherbee claims, are taken over in Gower's poem by the interplay between the Latin and the English portions of the text. The authority of the Latin tradition, moreover, is consistently undermined by being (literally) marginalized, and through the persistent, calculated ambiguities of the Latin head-verses. Genius is less a spokesman for a particular view in this plan than a mediator between the Latin and vernacular worlds of meaning, but he himself has no basis for resolving their conflicting claims. He also tries to create a relationship between the exemplary tales and Amans, the lover who is the prisoner of courtly convention, expressing the difficulty of applying Latin tradition to the "radically vernacular world" of the main body of the poem. Genius is marked by an "enlightened naturalism" and an instinctive sense of "kynde" and reason that offers one sort of mediation between the conflicting claims on human behavior, but his insight remains only tentative, and the poem finally offers no clear and definitive statement on the problem of human self-governance. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.1]

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

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata