Gower Bibliography

Chaucer’s Man of Law as a Literary Critic

Sullivan, William L. "Chaucer’s Man of Law as a Literary Critic." Modern Language Notes 68.1 (1953), pp. 1-8.


If Chaucer describes the Man of Law as seeming wiser and busier than he really is, then we might also question whether his knowledge of literature is as great as he claims. The Man of Law is "a self-appointed literary critic" and his tendency to error is shown by his mention of seven or eight women about whom Chaucer did not write stories and by the omission of two stories that he did write. Either the Man of Law likes to exaggerate, or he has read only the Prologue to the LGW and "believes all the stories to have been written" (5). Similarly, the Man of Law's reference to the cruelty of Medea and the hanging of her children shows that he is "not actually familiar with the Medea myth at all" (6). As for the disparaging remarks about Gower, Sullivan suggests that a hypothetical parallel would be if Charles Dickens referred to Jane Austen's novels as being vulgar in content (6). In addition, the Man of Law's inclusion of the extra names "might be considered as the result of his confusing two works [the CA and the LGW] similar in subject matter" (6-7). The remarks about incest in relation to the stories of Canace and Apollonius show "the extremely broad comical effect of Chaucer's selfish humor in putting into the mouth of the Man of Law a speech condemning Gower's choice of material, and, after a blunt relation of the most obnoxious facts (which Gower had carefully avoided), an announcement that he is not going to tell such stories" (7). The humor lies "in the fact that the expansive Man of Law is making a blunder in accusing Chaucer's 'moral Gower' of immorality" (7). Nevertheless, Chaucer's removal of the complimentary reference to Chaucer from later recensions of the CA may indicate that he found Chaucer's humor "as being in bad taste" (8). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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