Gower Bibliography

Wyclif, Langland, Gower, and the Pearl Poet on the Subject of Aristocracy

Fisher, John H. "Wyclif, Langland, Gower, and the Pearl Poet on the Subject of Aristocracy." In Studies in Medieval Literature in Honor of Professor Albert Croll Baugh. Ed. Leach, MacEdward. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1961, pp. 139-157.


Fisher surveys fourteenth-century beliefs about the status of the aristocracy. After reading Wyclif and Langland in the light of Roman and Augustinian views of social hierarchy and government, Fisher observes that what Gower adds to the picture is the concept of the "common good." Its importance for the subject of aristocracy is demonstrated by Ewart Lewis, who writes, "The emphasis which medieval writers placed upon the superiority of common good to private good was a response to the real medieval problem of persuading arrogant individualism to give way to community consciousness" (147). Gower connects the common good with a common law for all. Since equality before the law is consonant with Roman and Christian tenets of the natural equality of all men, such a position speaks of Gower's "conservative moralism" (148). Yet Fisher adds that in promoting equality Gower reveals a kind of ideological blind-spot, for "just as Wyclif did not intend that his arguments for ecclesiastical socialism should alter the position or prerogatives of the secular aristocracy, and Langland could perceive the uselessness of hereditary aristocrats and still regret their being pushed around by the rising middle class, so Gower argued for law and justice without ever realizing that these very agencies would help destroy the social hierarchy he took so completely for granted" (148). Both in the VC and the CA Gower's argument for the importance of law places a great burden on the king to obey the law and administer it responsibly. As a result, Gower pays less attention to the aristocracy, being "content merely to take the existence of the nobility for granted" (150). Fisher's piece ends with an analysis of Pearl, where we witness "a heavenly state of equality impossible of attainment in mortal society" (152), and with the final observation that whereas Wyclif and Pearl apply a different standard to the organization of divine and temporal society, Langland and Gower are willing to use the same standard for both. [CvD]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis

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