Gower Bibliography

Speech Acts and the Art of the Exemplum in the Poetry of Chaucer and Gower

Green, Eugene. "Speech Acts and the Art of the Exemplum in the Poetry of Chaucer and Gower." In Literary Computing and Literary Criticism: Theoretical and Practical Essays on Theme and Rhetoric. Ed. Porter, Rosanne G.. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989, pp. 167-187.


Presents a computer-aided analysis of the number, the form, and the usage of speech acts (commands, promises, and requests) in selected passages from Chaucer and Gower. He uses as the basis for his study all of the tales in "Confessio Amantis," "The Canterbury Tales," and the "Legend of Good Women" that Chaucer and Gower tell in common, plus the tales of Cleopatra and Hypermnestra in LGW, "Albinus and Rosemund" and "Canace and Machaire" from CA, the prologue to LGW, and both the prologue and epilogue to CA. The differences in the distribution of the various types of speech act in the two authors are not statistically significant. Green finds, however, that Gower has a marked preference for performative verbs, and Chaucer a significantly greater number of imperatives; and that in Gower, the proportion of reported utterance to direct address is far higher than it is in Chaucer's writing. In examining the authors' use of these passages, Green focuses on the moments in which the speech act is of particular moral significance: instances of deception, the responses of female characters to danger or to a challenge, and the characters' apostrophes. Chaucer's preference for direct address is especially marked in his characters' attempts to deceive one another, but he frequently allows his narrator to draw attention to the deception. Gower's narrator inserts himself less often, but Gower is more likely to include the responses of other characters in order to explore the effects of guile. In reporting a woman's reaction to her plight, Chaucer makes heavy use of the imperative mood, while Gower depends more on performative verbs and other expressive devices. In reporting soliloquies, Gower tends to place the performative verb in the introduction to the speech, while Chaucer includes it within the speech itself; Gower's soliloquies thus tend toward portraiture, while Chaucer's tend more to depict the character in action. In sum, Gower's art is designed to encourage moral reflection, while Chaucer's reflects a commitment to his own art: "Gower invites his readers to contemplate the morality of antiquity as vital to them; Chaucer's art supposes that moral passions expressed by women of the past can find convincing expression in fourteenth-century England" (pp. 184-85). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 10.2]

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

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