Gower Bibliography

John Gower's Audience: The Ballades

Yeager, R.F. "John Gower's Audience: The Ballades." Chaucer Review 40 (2005), pp. 81-105. ISSN 0009-2002


Gower’s Cinkante Ballades must in all likelihood be dated after 1385, not, as so many have believed, from Gower’s youth, for all but two of the ballades consist of three identically rhymed stanzas plus an envoy, “the form that became standard for ballades only in the last years of the fourteenth century, influenced especially by the theories and practices of Eustache Deschamps? (82). This is just one of the many new insights into the origin and audience of both CB and Traitié that Yeager offers in this new essay, a complement to his piece in Echard’s "Companion to Gower" (JGN 24.1), in which he provided the first convincing description of the thematic and narrative unity of CB. Christine de Pisan’s Livre de Cent Ballades was both a token of and an inspiration for the great fashion for the ballade in the early 1390s which, given the extensive contacts between French and English during the period, would certainly have been communicated to both poets and readers in England as well. Chaucer’s ballades might well all date from this period, Yeager suggests. Traitié, since it does not use the envoy, is likely to be the earlier of Gower’s two collections, probably dating from about 1390; and pointing to its affinities with CA – its similar use of Latin glosses, its use of ten of the same narratives as CA, its appearance within MSS of CA – Yeager argues that it was originally written for inclusion with CA, probably in the original Ricardian version. He thus has little patience with the notion that the work was meant as a wedding gift for Agnes Groundolf, pointing out that, with her Flemish name, there is little reason to suppose that she would have been the recipient of a composition in French. CB is more difficult to date precisely. In the only surviving copy it is preceded by a dedication to Henry IV, already king. That MS cannot, however, be the original presentation copy, Yeager points out, because of its lack of decoration and because of the diversity of its contents, lacking any single unifying theme. He offers some speculations on how the MS might have been assembled. More importantly, the separation of the existing copy from the original composition of its contents allows him to suggest that CB might have been first presented to Henry early in the 1390’s, when interest in the ballade was at its highest, and even perhaps in 1393, when Gower is known to have received from Henry his collar of SS; and it also allows him to infer that the work might well have circulated beyond its royal patron. For in the last part of his essay, Yeager argues that neither collection should be viewed as intended for any particular reader but as addressed instead to contemporary poets, as Gower took up the challenge to demonstrate his mastery of the new form and responded with a strong statement of his own views on the morality of love, and to posterity, as part of the same attempt to secure his future reputation that is evident in the poet’s colophon and in the design of his tomb. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 24.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Cinkante Balades
Traité pour Essampler les Amants Marietz
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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