Gower Bibliography

Gower's Boat, Richard's Barge, and the True Story of the Confessio Amantis: Text and Gloss

Grady, Frank. "Gower's Boat, Richard's Barge, and the True Story of the Confessio Amantis: Text and Gloss." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 44 (2002), pp. 1-15.


Grady asks us to consider Gower's account in the original Prologue of CA of his chance encounter with Richard II as they were both being rowed upon the river as a fiction constructed by the author both to flatter the king and to aggrandize his own relation with him. The passage has its roots, Grady notes, in several earlier texts: first, as Yeager and Astell observe, in the account of Arion in Book IV of the Fasti that Gower alludes to again at the end of the Prologue; but also in the historical record of another less happy encounter on the river between Richard and Archbishop Courtenay in March, 1385, which ended with Richard drawing his sword and chasing the Archbishop from his boat; in Gower's own advice on controlling his angry impulses in his epistle to the king in Book VI of VC; in the image of the rudderless ship in the VC Prologue; and in the episode in 1381 when Richard set out to meet the rebels on his barge and then changed his mind before disembarking, angering the rebels and provoking their invasion of the city. Each of these is rewritten in the CA Prologue in a "recuperative gesture designed to rescue the king from an already established reputation for irascibility and violence of temper" (4), showing the king at peace, at leisure, and in control both of himself and of his kingdom, and replacing the rebels with the image of the loyal poet. Grady's essay is a particular pleasure to read. Along the way, he draws upon the appealing picture of playwright and queen in the movie "Shakespeare in Love" in order to argue that our wish to believe in the truth of the river meeting derives from our own fondest fantasies about the relation between poet and patron; and he pauses several times to comment in choral fashion, in passages printed in italics, on his own New Historicist methodology and on the tactics that he uses to disarm objections to his argument. (The only tactic that he doesn't comment on is the most disarming one of all, which is this metacommentary.) "Shakespeare in Love" is self-consciously fiction, of course, and Gower's Prologue still only presumably so. One has to pause, moreover, over the ease with which Grady equates "historicizing" a passage with rendering it historically suspect: that it serves all the purposes that Grady describes does not prove that the event in question did not take place, unless nothing ever happens as one wishes. By a different reading, the historical record of the earlier encounter between the Archbishop and the king makes Gower's account of a river meeting all the more plausible. Grady does force us to reconsider our understanding of this passage, however, and if not to dismiss it, at least to give more thought both to why it is included and to the way in which the event is represented in Gower's poem. [PN; Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 22.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis

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