Gower Bibliography

The Sources and Significance of the 'Tale of King, Wine, Woman, and Truth' in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis

Burke, Linda Barney. "The Sources and Significance of the 'Tale of King, Wine, Woman, and Truth' in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis." Greyfriar 21 (1980), pp. 3-15. ISSN 0533-2869


Burke argues that the sources of the tale of "King, Wine, Woman, and Truth" in Book 7 of the CA have never been accurately identified, that Gower's artistry is evident in his additions to the tale, and that the story provides "a striking example of the sympathetic attitude toward women which pervades the Confessio as a whole" (3). While Macaulay was right about seeing 3 Esdras 3-4 as the source of the same story in the MO, the CA version is said to be borrowed from a "Cronique" (4). Burke suggests that Gower was actually influenced by four "Croniques" that tell the story (ranging from Josephus' Jewish Antiquities to Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum Historiale). Details that demonstrate Gower's indebtedness to these texts include the different characterization of Darius and the changed sequence of replies to the central question of the tale. However, Gower also adds new insights. His sources include a rather "pejorative description of king, wine, and woman" that is vividly contrasted to "the overwhelming superiority of truth, which is virtually equated with God" (8). Gower does not remove these negative opinions, but "he interweaves the theme of possible beneficence" (8). The king, for instance, can wreak havoc with his great power, but he is also described "in medieval Christian terms as the divinely ordained ruler of society" (9). Similarly, the power of a woman can mollify a tyrant, even as it may corrupt a good king. Gower's treatment of Alceste in particular shows that "Gower is much more sympathetic to women than his sources" (14). The major difference, then, is that for Gower "all three worldly goods are powerful insofar as they conform with truth" (15). Even truth, however, has changed, for instead of equating truth with God, Gower "plays on the double meaning of 'trouthe' in Middle English" (14). Since one of these meanings is "fidelity," the CA teaches that by "practicing the virtue of truth on the personal and social levels, human beings may share in the indomitable power of the absolute truth" (14-15). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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