Gower Bibliography

John Gower's Confessio Amantis and the First Discussion of Rhetoric in the English Language

Murphy, James J. "John Gower's Confessio Amantis and the First Discussion of Rhetoric in the English Language." Philological Quarterly 41 (1962), pp. 401-411.


Murphy disputes the existence of a medieval English rhetorical tradition. Despite the fact that the CA contains the "first known discussion of rhetoric in the English language" (402), Gower had little or no actual knowledge of the subject and borrowed his material quite blindly from Brunetto Latini's Li Livres dou Tresor. Murphy in particular critiques Robertson B. Daniels, "Rhetoric in Gower's 'To King Henry the Fourth, in Praise of Peace,'" for suggesting that Gower borrowed numerous rhetorical figures (colores) from rhetorical textbooks. According to Murphy, use of such figures can easily be explained by the abundant use of grammatical texts in English grammar schools. Murphy also disputes Daniel's argument that Gower's word-play on the term acephalus in VC 3.955-56 (an example of annominatio) shows a clear allusion to a passage in Geoffrey of Vinsauf. After listing similar puns in other works, he concludes: "It would seem that a parallel involving only one word will not suffice to prove Gower's reliance on the Poetria Nova" (407). As for Gower's discussion of rhetoric in Book 7 of the CA, Murphy argues that Gower's ignorance is illustrated by the fact that he does not even know that "Tullius" is the same person as "Cithero," or that the term "colour" has a technical meaning for the rhetorician. Gower derives almost all of his knowledge from the Tresor, the exception being the credit given to Aristotle for writing a work on rhetoric "when it seems apparent that Gower himself knew of no such book" (409). The latter detail is likely caused by the influence of the Secretum Secretorum. From the evidence of the Confessio, then, there is little evidence "that there was a viable rhetorical tradition in fourteenth-century England similar to that in France or Italy, which had given rise to vernacular treatises on rhetoric in the preceding century" (411). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
In Praise of Peace
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis

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