Gower Bibliography

De Vulgari Auctoritate: Chaucer, Gower and Men of Great Authority

Minnis, A. J. "De Vulgari Auctoritate: Chaucer, Gower and Men of Great Authority." In Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. ELS Monograph Series (51). Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, 1991, pp. 36-74.


Treats "Confessio Amantis" as an "Ovidian" rather than as a "Boethian" poem and finds a particular sort of "dialogue" within CA. The form of the poem, he argues (as he has before), with its lengthy Prologue and its extensive marginal glossing, derives at least in part from the typical apparatus and vocabulary of the medieval commented versions of classical texts, particularly of Ovid. One of the issues raised by these earlier commentators was that of the moral "authority" of poetic texts, in comparison to those of philosophy. Dante set the example for applying the same question to vernacular poetry, particularly poetry concerned with love. In function, Gower's apparatus is very much like that of Dante's in the "Convivio": it attempts to show the moral usefulness of the work and to assert its claim to "authority"; and as Gower serves as critic of his own text, he also separates himself from it, distinguishing the auctor from his persona. Gower's effort was very different from Chaucer's, who neither sought "authority" for himself nor was inclined to attribute very much to his predecessors. The result, however, is not necessarily a complete congruence of all of the elements of CA, nor even a complete dominance of the Latin moralization over the vernacular portion of the poem. The tension between "auctor sapiens" and "persona amans" remains, Minnis asserts, following the model of the Ovidian tradition. And focusing on Amans rather than on Genius, Minnis argues that the vernacular portion of the poem, with its sympathetic treatment of human love, retains a self-justifying validity almost to the very end. The meaning of the poem is not summed up by its Latin glosses, therefore; and where there is a tension between Latin and vernacular, Gower must have been aware of it, and must have relished it. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.1]

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

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