Gower Bibliography

With Carmen's Help: Latin Authorities in the Confessio Amantis.

Echard, Siân. "With Carmen's Help: Latin Authorities in the Confessio Amantis." Studies in Philology 95 (1998), pp. 1-40.


Echard addresses the Latin apparatus of CA that was evidently of Gower's own composition: the glosses in their various forms (the speaker markers, the identification of sources, and the prose summaries of the tales and discursive passages) and the elegiac couplets that are interspersed throughout. She identifies and contests two assumptions that underlie most recent commentary on these portions of the poem: that the Latin passages by their very nature constitute a hegemonic and authoritative discourse, and that glosses, whether marginal or otherwise, always successfully functioned to control the interpretation of the associated text. In CA, she argues, the Latin portions alone offer a variety of voices, contrasting in form, in accessibility, in function, and in reliability, and therefore cannot offer a single stable point of reference, especially on the meaning of the English. "Far from invoking authority," she claims, "Gower's Latin problematizes the question of authority in the Confessio by presenting a reader with several competing authoritative voices, Latin and vernacular, none of which seems capable of taming the text" (p. 7). Or as she puts it elsewhere, "The language of authority exposes the limitations of authority" (p. 27). She illustrates her point with passages from the poem in which different portions of the Latin apparatus collide either with one another or with the English text, including the opening of the dramatic frame, where the assertions of veracity based on real experience in the English and in the Latin verses are undercut by the marginal assertion that the whole thing is a fiction, and the tales of Florent, Albinus and Rosemund, Constance, and Narcissus, in each of which, for different reasons, it is difficult to locate a single interpretive center. Echard extends her argument to include a consideration of the ways in which the Latin apparatus is presented in the MSS of CA, and it is not among the smallest merits of her essay that she offers the most complete available description of the variety of ways in which scribes and editors arranged the Latin and English texts on the page, including four plates as illustrations, two each from Bodleian MSS Fairfax 3 and Bodley 294. Each different arrangement constitutes a different interpretation of the relationship among the different parts and of their relative authority, she argues. The variety of presentations multiplies the interpretive possibilities of the text, and constitutes a confirmation of the instability that appears to have been part of Gower's own intention in juxtaposing so many different voices. This is an essay that deserves to be read in its entirety, both for the author's specific observations and for the suggestiveness of her analysis. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 17.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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