Gower Bibliography

The Invention of the Anglo-Latin Public Poetry (circa 1367-1402) and its Prosody, esp. in John Gower

Carlson, David R. "The Invention of the Anglo-Latin Public Poetry (circa 1367-1402) and its Prosody, esp. in John Gower." Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 39 (2004), pp. 389-406. ISSN 0076-9762


"As in the vernaculars aristocratic coterie entertainments and vulgar literary performances ("minstrelcy" and "popular tales") were supplemented (though not displaced) by broader treatments, of matter of broader import, for broader audiences, so too in Latin the post-plague fourteenth century in England saw poets inventing subject-matters for their work, of interest beyond the more narrowly clerical matters to which they theretofore restricted themselves, and inventing modes of address to go with such subject-matters, appropriate for addressing potentially interested non-clerical parties, as well as a widened range of persons having some clerical status. The later fourteenth-century Anglo-Latin poets' invention of broader secular subjects and audiences for their Latin writings was matched too by their invention of a simpler, more broadly apprehensible style, involving unrhymed dactylic verse" (390). The central figure in Carlson's stylistic narrative is Gower, particularly in the "Visio Angliae" now incorporated into Book 1 of VC, which Carlson takes to be the only "preponderantly Ricardian piece still evident" in the much revised and edited longer work (398). The Visio "focuses on secular affairs . . . , at the national level even, in which diverse social groups had to take an interest, not excluding the clerical estates but not restricted to them. In it, Gower argues for an agenda for a particular programme of secular governance – albeit an appallingly narrow, reactionary one . . . – and Gower argues this agenda in largely if not exclusively secular terms" (398), employing the dream-vision form and writing in "unrhymed elegiac distichs – a complementary form of versification, unadorned, that lent the work stylistic accessibility" (399), that does not appear remarkable by classical standards but that stands out in sharp contrast to the practices of other contemporary writers of Latin verse. Gower abandoned his own experiment: his last major Latin work, the Cronica Tripertita, employs complex rhyme patterns "in addition to other stylistic features in common with the hyper-sophisticated scholastic Latin poetry" (401). But the simpler style lived on in the work of other poets who wrote on contemporary events, notably Richard Maidstone and the anonymous composer of the Lancastrian "Metrical Historia regum Angliae continuation." [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 26.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Vox Clamantis
Cronica Tripertita

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata