Gower Bibliography

John Gower's Vox Clamantis and the Medieval Idea of Place

Olsson, Kurt. "John Gower's Vox Clamantis and the Medieval Idea of Place." Studies in Philology 84 (1987), pp. 134-158.


Olsson begins his essay by distinguishing three different perspectives on "place" in Vox Clamantis, each with a corresponding sense of justice, of time, and, we later learn, of fear, referring to geographical location in Book 1, social position in Books 3-6, and spiritual location in Book 7. The rest of his essay explores the implications of these distinctions and of the "expanding sense of place" in the poem in a detailed analysis of the separate sections, and it offers one of the most important attempts to treat VC as a work with an inner coherence of its own rather than as a mere collection of statements of Gower's political and social views. Olsson draws upon both classical and medieval rhetorical models to explain the relations among the three parts and how they constitute a single argument, leading readers from the "comun drede" pervading the England of his time to a reappreciation of their own responsibility, to a turning inward to repentance and a reexamination of their own inner life. His argument is sophisticated and complex and it defies brief summary. Among his most important contributions, however, is his redefinition of the function of the vision that constitutes Book 1 of the poem. As an exordium, the book is intended to win the readers' attention and good will for the argument that follows by implying that they too are the injured parties in the rebellion. The narrator too is clearly "vexed by injustices," but his bewilderment and fear are not a reflection of Gower's own attitude towards the peasantry but an indication that the narrator suffers from the same misperception and lack of sense of his proper "place" that the readers too must overcome. Book 2 begins the process of reordering his, and the readers', perception, and Gower shifts his narrative stance, adopting the vox populi to describe the proper duties and functions of each estate as part of his general argument that those who suffered from the peasants' attacks are themselves culpable. Book 7 juxtaposes Nebuchadnezzar's dream to the vision in Book 1: it depicts the recovery of proper place spiritually, but it also suggests a return to the world of Book 1 as a place of penance with new hope for the restoration of what has been lost. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 6.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Vox Clamantis

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