Gower Bibliography

John Gower and the Concept of Righteousness

Gradon, Pamela. "John Gower and the Concept of Righteousness." Poetica: An International Journal of Linguistic-Literary Studies 8 (1977), pp. 61-71. ISSN 0287-1629


Gradon points out that Gower's Golden Age, described in the Prologue, already has "the whole hierarchical structure of the medieval state" (62), including the rule of law. To the modern reader, such references to justice may have "the air of being loose moral platitudes" (62), but Gradon argues in her essay that the opposite is the case. Of particular importance is Gower's usage of the word "ryhtwisnesse" and the terms "justice" and "equity." Gradon points out that in the MO 14195-98 Gower adopts the commonplace definition of Justice as rendering to each his due ("Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribunes," as Justinian's Institutes puts it). Medieval sources reveal that this definition was understood to refer in part to "the observance of pre-ordained hierarchical patterns" (64). As such, Justice meant obedience of superiors, fair-dealing to equals, and correction of inferiors. Even lawyers in the Middle Ages therefore understood the virtue of Justice to be a broader concept than merely a legal one, comprising instead a general idea of right conduct (and social relationships) that affects all human actions. Gradon next turns to Gower's notion of equity, which she compares to the maxim "Aequitas est justicia dulcore misericordiae temperate" ("Equity is justice tempered by the sweetness of mercy"; 66). Gradon shows that Gower opposes justice (or equity) to covetousness, a vice that is in turn remedied by love. The relevance of this to the CA is obvious, for the virtue of equity does not only apply to the state but also "enables a man to control himself by maintaining a balance between reason and will" (67). This also implies that "the theme which binds the whole poem together … is neither Empedoclean love nor yet the theme of caritas … rather the theme is equity or justice in its broad sense. That is to say, just as Gower requires righteousness, that is justice, for the right functioning of the state, so the Confessor requires righteousness of the lover; that is, self-examination and judgment, submission to the rule of reason and the right direction of the will" (70). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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