Gower Bibliography

Reading, Transgression, and Judgment: Gower's Case of Paris and Helen.

Olsson, Kurt. "Reading, Transgression, and Judgment: Gower's Case of Paris and Helen." In Re-visioning Gower. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Charlotte, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998, pp. 67-92.


Using the tale of Paris and Helen (at the end of Book 5) and the accompanying discussion of sacrilege as his focus, Olsson examines Gower's use of the different interpretive voices in the poem, each offering a different kind of wisdom. He treats the relation between the English and Latin passages, exploring how CA is concerned with a search for ethical truth (and with the proper judgment of Amans' and Paris' conduct); and he focuses on the ways in which Gower advances that search while denying the possibility of any final answer. Olsson treats both the marginal glosses and the epigrams as prosopopoeia: the former is the fictitious voice of a "prose grammarian-commentator" who links the tales to the ordinatio and who offers the most literal and straightforward meaning of the text. The function he serves, however, is to provide memorial signposts rather than final interpretations, and to initiate the reading rather than close it off. The epigrammist speaks more proverbially, more paratactically, more enigmatically: he often poses puzzles that can only be solved through a close reading of the English text, and in doing so, he directs our attention to relevant moral issues. Genius offers a third outside commentary, and his role is least stable of all, shifting between judgments based on the two different divinities that he serves. He thus demands the greatest amount of discretion from the reader; and it is upon the reader that Gower places the burden of discrimination, in choosing among these different interpreters and in filling in the gaps where the poem provides only hints and no explicit judgments, in the hope that by the experience he or she may become more wise. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 18.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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