Gower Bibliography

Political Allegory in Late Medieval England.

Astell, Ann W. "Political Allegory in Late Medieval England." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999

Review

Astell devotes a chapter entitled “Gower’s Arion and ‘Cithero’? to the Confessio Amantis in this collection of studies of the (largely covert) political allegory in late medieval English poetry. She re-examines some familiar passages in the Prologue and Book 7 and comes up with some subtle if not entirely surprising new readings. In her discussion of the Prologue she begins by re-opening the question of the dating of the different versions of the poem. She dismisses the allusions to 1390 that occur in some late glosses as irrelevant to the date of composition of the poem, and she argues instead that the reference to Arion that occurs in all versions of the Prologue must have been written after the Christmas season of 1391/92, when Thomas Walsingham records that a 10-foot long dolphin swam up the Thames as far as London Bridge. Drawing in part from the reviewer’s essay in the 1984 Mediaevalia, she goes on to argue that except for the two lines of Latin that occur at the very end of Book 8 in some MSS (“Derbeie Comiti, recolunt quem laude periti, . . .), all of the references to Richard’s cousin Henry in the English text and the accompanying Latin glosses that are preserved in MSS of the “second? and “third? recensions must have been added after Henry became king in 1399. The copy that Gower presented to Henry in 1393 must therefore have been a “first recension? copy, and the two-line Latin presentation, like the allusion to Chaucer that is also preserved in this version, indicates that Gower from the very beginning was thinking of a wider audience for his poem than just Richard alone. Arion also figures largely in Astell’s interpretation of the political content of this version. She adopts the view (presented most forcefully by R.F. Yeager) that Arion is meant as a figure for the poet himself. She notes, however, the omission of any reference to boats and sea-faring in the passage on Arion, one of the most traditional parts of the story as it is preserved, for instance, in Gower’s likely source in Ovid’s Fasti. The lack is supplied, she argues, by the account of Gower boarding Richard’s barge at the very beginning of the Prologue; and if we read the two passages together in light of Ovid’s version in the Fasti, then Richard implicitly becomes the captain of the pirate ship who captures Arion and who is the first audience of his song. “Interpreted allegorically and intertextually,? she concludes, the entire episode “is much less complimentary to the king than it seems at first sight? (p. 81). The two lines of Latin at the end of Book 8 indicate that “Henry of Derby stands, dolphin-like, in the second tier of Gower’s original intended audience? of this version. “From him the poet seeks rescue for himself and the realm, should Richard prove to be a pirate after all and inattentive to the song of ‘an other such as Arion’ (Prologue, l. 1054)? (83). In her examination of Gower’s discussion of Rhetoric in Book 7, Astell emphasizes the similarity between the account of the trial of the Catalinian conspirators and Gower’s depiction of the Merciless Parliament in the Cronica Tripertita. Gower’s dismisses Caesar just as in the later work he condemns those who pleaded for mercy for the presumed traitors, and he implicitly identifies himself with Cicero “in his plainspoken opposition to the abuses of licentious nobles and riotous peasants? (84). Gower thus “aligned his poetic and rhetorical project with the reformist project of the Lords Appellant? (89), and the entire discussion provides an effective prelude to the outline of the five points of Policy, where Gower offers his own advice to the young king. Chief among the virtues that he advocates is Truth, and Astell sees here an allusion to the Appellants’ requirement that Richard retake his oath as king. In her conclusion, Astell argues that Gower splits the figure of Cicero in two: he “embraces the political stance of ‘Cithero,’ while rejecting the ornate doctrine of ‘Tullius,’ . . . opting to speak in a low style, using ‘rude wordes and . . . pleyne; (VIII.3067*)? (91). His message is wisdom only for the wise, however, and it will be hidden from those for whom the poem is seen merely as entertainment. (It appears that Astell fails to note that paradox here of Gower’s use of plain words to conceal.) Gower provides a clue on how to read his poem, however, in the four opening tales, in the section on the “Sins of the Eyes and Ears,? which provide lessons on how to pierce through appearances in order to find the “message veiled behind the obvious one? (92). In her other chapters Astell consider John Ball and Piers Plowman, LGW, MkT, NPT, SGGK, and Malory’s Morte Darthur. There is a useful review by Candace Barrington in SAC 22 (2000): 448-51. [PN Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 20.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Cronica Tripertita
Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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