Gower Bibliography

Burying the Dead: John Gower and English Rising of 1381

Arner, Lynn Patricia. "Burying the Dead: John Gower and English Rising of 1381." PhD thesis, University of Rochester, 2000.


"This dissertation investigates how, in the wake of the English Rising of 1381, John Gower's Confessio Amantis addressed the highest ranks of non-ruling urban groups, ranks which produced numerous rebels. Using a methodology in dialogue with British Cultural Studies, this project argues that the Confessio worked to reshape the consciousness of readers from these strata, proposing to alter the ways in which they conceptualized their agency, interests, allies, and overall identities. This is the first study of the Confessio to examine an early readership from non-ruling groups or to consider readers who had participated in or sympathized with the uprising. Chapter One challenges claims that only ruling groups comprised the poem's earliest readership and explains that the upper strata of non-ruling urban groups (roughly, middle-rank guild members, including prosperous retailers and artisans) were in the Confessio's audiences from 1390 to 1425. This chapter examines studies of early Confessio manuscripts and their circulation but focuses primarily on the access of the upper strata of non-ruling urban groups to literacy and on their consumption of texts. Chapter Two argues that the Confessio's rendition of Nebuchadnezzar's dream represents history as a homogeneous mass and as a teleological progression into ruin. Through these contradictory models, the Confessio proposed to alter the terms in which readers understood how history happens, experienced their relation to the past and future, conceptualized their agency and identities, and understood their connections to the uprising and to insurrection in general. The third chapter argues that, through the grace of higher powers, the protagonist undergoes a rite of passage, improving his understanding, morality, and spirituality. The poem offers readers a similar gift, through its learned, textual tradition. The Confessio thus distinguishes informed men from the masses, thereby policing debates about England's problems, while fostering identifications between readers and higher ranks and encouraging contempt for lower ranks. Chapter Four holds that the Confessio's claims about popular insurrection echo the Vox Clamantis. However, the poems' overall approaches to the uprising differ radically, as their strategies were shaped by disparities between England's political terrain in 1381 and in the years immediately thereafter.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:Dissertation Abstracts International 61 (2000): 601A
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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