Gower Bibliography

The Art of High Prosaic Seriousness: John Gower as Didactic Raconteur

Farnham, Anthony E. "The Art of High Prosaic Seriousness: John Gower as Didactic Raconteur." In The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature. Ed. Benson, Larry D. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1974, pp. 161-173.


Whereas Gower has often been censured for being dull, Farnham finds in his didacticism a great deal of irony and humour: "The excellence of his narrative art is inseparable from its peculiar style, from that almost perverse comic sense, that keen awareness of the didactic value of misdirected seriousness, which suffuses the entire Confessio Amantis" (165). For instance, in the story of Acteon in Book 1, Genius expends almost too much effort to make Acteon guilty of "Mislok," for gazing on the bathing Diana: "The earnest medieval reader will be forgiven if he is seen shaking his head in both despair and laughter at a morality more obtuse and more earnest than his own, which has attracted his sympathy but repelled his common sense, and so won a comic victory over his sensibility and taught him some of its short-comings" (168). This "comedy of high prosaic seriousness" (168-69) is also evident in the Prologue, where all the attention paid to kings and governments obscures the fact that the real issue is "the disordering of worldly love" (171). Finally, the great joke of the CA is embodied in the two figures of Amans and Genius. Amans is "the would-be dirty old man, frustrated and bewildered by an emotional commitment of embarrassing purity" (172) and Genius, in a similar mixture of character traits, is "the affable Confessor forever in a muddle over which god he serves, too garrulous to listen with understanding, too obtuse to grasp any of the realities which lie behind the moral platitudes with which his prosaic mind is plentifully furnished" (172). While the joke is without malice, "only by laughter can we come to recognize our moral beliefs and intellectual assumptions for what they are" (173). [CvD]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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