Gower Bibliography

Sins of Omission: Transgressive Genders, Subversive Sexualities, and Confessional Silences in John Gower's Confessio Amantis

Watt, Diane. "Sins of Omission: Transgressive Genders, Subversive Sexualities, and Confessional Silences in John Gower's Confessio Amantis." Exemplaria 13 (2001), pp. 529-551.


Watt considers such tales as "Deianira and Nessus," "Achilles and Deidamia," and "Iphis and Iante" as examples of "transgressive" gender identities, which "cross over and obfuscate the divide between male and female," and of "subversive sexualities," which "challenge societal norms and expose their inconsistencies" (531), and she also examines Amans' relation with Venus, Cupid, and Genius for its latent sexual implications, all as part of an argument that although Gower does not face directly the issue of male homosexuality, he takes a broader and less conservative attitude towards sexual issues than Karma Lochrie is willing to allow (in the book reviewed in JGN 20, no. 2). Watt’s final paragraph provides an excellent summary of her conclusions: "Genius’s position on gender transgression and subversive sexuality is ambivalent: while 'honeste love' (marriage) and self-governance are praised, transvestism, transgendering, and transsexuality are explored and even, at times, allowed to undermine norms of gender and sexuality. They are treated differently according to context, and according to the ethical issues raised. Hercules is viewed as effeminate because he is besotted with a woman and because, in dressing as a woman, he is guilty of 'Falssemblant.' He can thus be compared to negative exemplary figures like Saradanapulus, or even Ulysses. Achilles's cross-dressing is legitimized by his youth and because his chivalric masculine identity asserts itself. It is not a form of 'Falswitnesse' in so far as he remains true to himself. Iphis, like Penthesilea, is taken as a positive 'masculine' role model. These narratives destablilize not only male/female boundaries but also the oppositions of manliness and effeminacy, the ethical and the unethical, and the natural and the unnatural. Confessio presents the reader with a series of paradoxes: Nature can inspire unnatural desires and actions; it is possible, even desirable, for a woman to behave like or to turn into a man; the most manly of heroes can become effeminate; the most exemplary of figures can behave immorally, and vice versa. Yet, while neither female cross-dressing nor female homosexuality is condemned out of hand, male sodomy remains taboo." And because of Amans' sexually charged relationship with both Cupid and Genius, "one question remains. Is it simply Amans's folly as a senex amans, or a more deeply hidden sin, which ultimately constitutes the 'unwise fantasie' of which he must rid himself?" (550-51). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 21.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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