Gower Bibliography

Kingship and Common Profit in Gower's Confessio Amantis.

Peck, Russell A.. "Kingship and Common Profit in Gower's Confessio Amantis." Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1978

Review

Russell Peck argues that in the political and social turmoil of the fourteenth century, Gower turns to classical stories to find certainty and perspective and to provide a kind of social commentary that is regenerative, not only for the common good, but also for the individual person. In fact, the individual and the state are two sides of the same coin and man is "a double entity, both social and individual" (xxi). As such, kingship is really a form of maturity, self-rule, and rationality. Gower’s "notion of social structure is thus interwoven with his theory of ethics, psychology, and theology" (xxi). Peck suggests that these are some of the hallmarks of Gower’s ideology and he traces these ideas in chronological fashion through the various books of the CA. Peck explains that the Prologue to the CA lays out several of Gower's major themes. Peck suggests that Gower operates with the Augustinian model of faculty psychology, which divides the mind into three faculties: Memory, Intellect, and Will. The will is the loving faculty, but through sin it often gets stuck in narcissism rather than true knowledge. It is this selfishness that causes social division, a theme that is portrayed in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Peck then surveys the various historical problems that Gower mentions – e.g., the Peasants' Revolt and the Papal Schism – and shows that for Gower the issue is always one of individual responsibility. Despite Gower's pessimistic picture of contemporary degeneration and his eventual disillusionment with Richard II, the Prologue ends with an optimistic note that common profit may yet be found through individual reform. Book I begins the Boethian journey of self-discovery. The mode of confession operates here as "a kind of psychoanalysis" (30). Instrumental in this process is Genius, whose origins Peck briefly traces, and whom Peck associates with the mental faculty "ingenium" (closely linked to the imagination). In Book I, Genius weaves his tales around the theme of community. For instance, the Tale of Florent ends in "the mutual respect of true community" (49). Amans is thus instructed to leave behind the narcissism of pride, the cupidity which keeps him from regaining his true kingship, and to seek out common profit instead. Book 2 is equally political, particularly when Gower discusses the sin of supplantation. Gower argues that the seeker after singular profit will lose all through poetic justice, whereas the seeker of common profit will be rewarded (66-67). Books 3 and 4 deal less with common profit, even though "the motif of kingship is considerably enlarged here" (79). Instead, Gower chooses to develop the story of Amans' infatuation. Peck notes that Genius does not always seem consistent here. Whereas at first Genius seems to suggest that the "sexual urge almost excuses many a crime" (85), in Book V he will strongly endorse virginity. According to Peck, this fits the structure of the CA which uses the device of argumentation to proceed by opposition and debate (86). Book 5 is the turning point in the poem. Genius becomes increasingly more reflective and sober. The reason is that the discourse on religions leaves him embarrassed about the cuckoldry of the gods and the lascivious nature of Venus. However, Peck also points out that Genius is ultimately a structural device rather than a psychologically rich character (105). The rest of the chapter on Book 5 looks at kingship and common profit in four tales: the Tale of Virgil's Mirror, the Tale of Medea and Jason, the Tale of Adrian and Bardus, and the Tale of Paris and Helen. In the second half of the CA, the focus shifts "from categories of sin to the general psychology of willfulness" (125). As a result, in Book 6 the focus is less on Drunkenness and Delicacy (species of Gluttony) and our attention is instead "turned to willful Amans' desires as he describes how besotted he is in love" (126). Within this scheme, then, sorcery and delicacy are forms of fantasy that allow the selfish will to disguise itself and to adapt reality to its own wishes (128). Book 7, structurally the most important book in the CA (140), is about the "governance of will by wit and reason" and is "an antidote to all the sins discussed in the poem" (125). Instead of a confession, we now get a sermon. The book defines man's role in a universe that the medieval humanist Gower describes as a kind of "cosmic community" (141). Book 8, according to Peck, is about the "rediscovery of right relationships" (161), about gaining perspective, and about the voyage home. Incest, the sin described in Book 8, is the crime of narcissism and immoderation, and stands in opposition to community and the golden mean. The Tale of Apollonius is a demonstration of how this sin can be overcome through the kind of kingship and self-governance that follows the five points of policy laid out in Book 7 (168-69). The tale provides a fitting ending for the CA, because Amans, like Apollonius is in exile and needs to recover his (spiritual) kingship. After Amans goes "Homward" (8.2967), Gower ends with a prayer for the state of England, an ending which "reminds us of Chaucer's Retraction or the conclusion to Troilus and Criseyde" (184) because of its movement to a larger community in which man can have faith. [CvD]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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