Gower Bibliography

Rivalry, Rape and Manhood: Gower and Chaucer

Dinshaw, Carolyn. "Rivalry, Rape and Manhood: Gower and Chaucer." In Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. ELS Monograph Series (51). Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, 1991, pp. 130-152.

Review

Begins by reviewing the history of the notion that Chaucer and Gower had a falling out and quarrelled with one another through their poetry during the 1390's. She asks why the idea of a quarrel has appealed so strongly to scholars for more than two centuries: "What desire might it fantastically fulfill?" (p. 132). And she suggests that the underlying assumption is that "aggression is necessary to the articulation or assertion of a strong, coherent character, an identity" (p. 132). Such an assumption is dangerous, she argues, for the consolidation of masculine identity in a male-dominated culture takes place through the elimination of, and therefore at the expense of, the feminine; and there is a continuity between this habit of thought and the violent eradication of female identity and autonomy in rape. As a step towards the creation of other sorts of relationships between men, Dinshaw turns to Gower's tale of Philomela and Chaucer's T&C, and uses the first as a gloss to the second in order to construct a reading that "does not obfuscate but rather clarifies the fact and the threat of violence to women's bodies" (p. 136). Gower typically describes Tereus' rape of Philomela as an anomalous, bestial act, avoiding judgment of similar, but socially sanctioned, "gender-assymetrical acts" such as Tereus' marriage to Procne; and as elsewhere in CA, he treats the crime as an offense of one man against another. The sisters' revenge has an ironic appropriateness: through rape, Tereus reinforces his own identity, "thus violently refusing mortality and disaggregation," but in consuming his own son, "he destroys his own legitimate chance at life beyond his own decay" (pp. 138-39). In the metamorphoses with which Gower concludes the tale, finally, the violation of the woman is transformed, in Philomela's song, into the lyric conventions of amorous suffering. The story of Procne and Philomela lurks behind the action of Book 2 of T&C. The nightingale's song serves as the harbinger to Criseyde's dream of the eagle and the exchange of hearts, which anticipates the romantic love talk of the following books. But the dream puts the violent mutilation of the woman before our eyes. And Gower's tale helps us understand that courtly love discourse also "encodes the bodily violation and destruction of a woman" (p. 141). Taking the two poems together, she concludes, reveals the "violent obliteration of the woman" that each tends to conceal, and using the two texts in conjunction, rather than as rivals, also provides a model for a more productive sort of relationship among men. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 11.1]

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

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