Gower Bibliography

Pre-Texts: Tables of Contents and the Reading of John Gower's Confessio Amantis.

Echard, Siân. "Pre-Texts: Tables of Contents and the Reading of John Gower's Confessio Amantis." Medium AEvum 66 (1997), pp. 270-287.


The presentation of a text is also a response to it and an interpretation of it, Echard asserts, echoing Doyle and Parkes (1978) among many others. Because of its length and the complexity of its structure, CA presented a number of challenges to both scribes and editors which resulted in very different presentations despite the high level of consistency in the text. In this essay Echard is concerned with a single editorial device, the prefatory tables of contents by which CA was introduced, and she chooses four examples for contrast. Each shapes the reader's experience of the poem in a different way; and though all are in English, each draws in different proportions from the Latin and English texts. In Princeton Univ. Lib. MS Taylor 5, the table consists only of a list of stories, ignoring both the dramatic and the conceptual frames and thus neglecting the exemplary function of the tales; and it also passes over the contents of the Prologue. The tabulator evidently relies exclusively on the English text, and examining only the first few lines, often gives a misleading view of the contents of the stories. The table in Magdalen Coll. MS 213 is more careful and more detailed; it makes use of both the Latin and the English; it sometimes makes reference to the framework of the sins within which the tales are contained, but not in any consistent manner; and it includes references to Nebuchadnezzar's dream and to Daniel's prophecy in the Prologue. Caxton, in his edition of 1483, is even more thorough. In his introduction, he describes both the dramatic frame and the framework of the sins, and in his table he includes a detailed account of the subcategories of sin. He nonetheless portrays the poem primarily as a collection of tales. Berthelette, in his edition of 1532, enlarges Caxton's table. He gives fuller treatment to the long and multi-episodic tales. He includes headings for the different topics in the Prologue and for the mythographic and scientific topics in Books 5 and 7, and the reader thus perceives the work as encyclopedic in nature as well as as a collection of stories. At the same time, Berthelette is more sensitive than Caxton to the actual moral import of many of the tales. In including so complete a description of the poem, Berthelette's table is the most useful, but it is also the one that imposes its own vision of the poem most fully upon the reader. While they may or may not be based upon classical models, Echard concludes, these various efforts to provide an epitome to the poem represent the beginnings of Gower criticism. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 17.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Facsimiles, Editions, and Translations
Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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