Gower Bibliography

History Lessons from the End of Time: Gower and the English Rising of 1381

Arner, Lynn. "History Lessons from the End of Time: Gower and the English Rising of 1381." Clio 31 (2002), pp. 237-255. ISSN 0884-2043


Arner offers a detailed explication of the image of Nebuchadnezzar's statue in the CA Prologue, which she sees functioning as part of Gower's address to those readers in "the upper strata of urban non-ruling groups"--the more prosperous shopkeepers, artisans, and craftsmen--who "had participated in or who had sympathized with the English Rising of 1381" in order to win them over to the ideology of the ruling class and to break their identification with the lower ranks of society (239). The statue represents history as predetermined. "The inevitability of this development ratifies the social order and social relations" of Gower's time and "positions medieval men and women as helpless object of great forces" (243) which have also operated over a vast expanse of time, implying that "political action is futile" and encouraging "resignation and accommodation" (244). CA nonetheless "addresses readers as having agency," but it "works to direct this agency to-ward specific ends" (245). The statue also suggests that Gower's England stands at the end of time. "Therefore, movement into the future holds little in store but further decline," and "the only hope for the continuation of Gower's society lies in the stabilizing measures offered by conservative groups" (246). The statue offers an image of society itself, with each component representing a different rank. The lowest order - the statue's feet - is the most unstable and threatens the survival of society as a whole. The statue thus suggests the need for control and repression of the lowest ranks. By placing late medieval England at the end of time, it also positions it outside of time, and paradoxically, while affirming that current social conditions are the result of an inevitable process, it also affirms the irrelevance of history to the present in order to delegitimate claims for relief based upon a history of oppression. "The erasure of the history of subordinate groups" (249) is also evident in the summary of history that accompanies the statue, which is all about the rulers rather than the ruled, suggesting that "subordinate groups . . . were irrelevant" (250). The identification of each class with a particular material "argues for an essentialist understanding of the social order" which therefore "cannot be changed" (251). Finally, "by conceptualizing rank and, by extension, interest apart from ongoing political struggles, the poem discourages readers from rearticulating their wants and needs in relation to a shifting ideological climate" (252). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 22.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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