Gower Bibliography

John Gower in his Most Significant Role

Coffman, George R. "John Gower in his Most Significant Role." In Elizabethan Studies and Other Essays in Honor of George F. Reynolds. Ed. West, E. J. University of Colorado Studies, Series B, 2 (4). Boulder, CO: [University of Colorado], 1945, pp. 52-61.


Faced with the fact that no major literary figure has suffered more at the hands of his critics than Gower, Coffman suggests that "the social instead of the literary aspects of Gower's writings may form the basis for an interpretation of him in his most significant role" (52). Gower is "an advocate of moral order" (53), and while his "social gospel" (53) presupposes no social equality (he has no faith in the common people), he does preach about honesty and integrity for all members of society. When men are ruled by reason, the result will be an ordered universe of peace and harmony. This vision is at the heart of all three of Gower's major works, and it underlies the notion of man as microcosm, as well as the "doctrine of individual responsibility" (54). When man uses his reason to understand God's plan for the universe then he will live a virtuous life in order to avert God's punishment for sin. Coffman argues that "Gower's complete works are as much a justification of the ways of God to man as are Milton's. His most significant role is his explanation and illustration of the ethical basis of God's universe for this little world of man" (60). By recognizing God's plans and living accordingly, man can "recreate a paradise on earth" (54). This emphasis on personal responsibility also informs Gower's opinions about Richard II and Henry IV. Of note in this regard is a passage in the CT (3.486-87) which "echoes Wycliffe's doctrine that no man in mortal sin can hold dominion or lordship" (56). Similarly, in the CA Gower argues that the king who does not govern himself and lacks good judgment violates the law of reason and is not worthy to rule. The passage in question (CA 7.3071-83) uses phrasing "which might well have come from English puritans when they indicted Charles I over two centuries later" (57). Coffman further suggests that "In Praise of Peace" is based on the central theme of Marsiglio of Padua's Defensor Pacis, namely that the end of government is peace. The final part of the essay engages with C. S. Lewis' thoughts on courtly love, and suggests that Lewis failed to recognized that the CA was "at least in part a King's Courtesy Book" (60). As "a practical conservative-liberal" (61), Gower instructs the king and his readership in general in living a responsible life directed to "the welfare of England, his own dear land" (61). [CvD]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies
In Praise of Peace
Vox Clamantis
Cronica Tripertita
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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