Gower Bibliography

Violence and the Sacrificial Poet: Gower, the Vox, and the Critics

Salisbury, Eve. "Violence and the Sacrificial Poet: Gower, the Vox, and the Critics." In On John Gower: Essays at the Millenium. Ed. Yeager, R.F. Studies in Medieval Culture (46). Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2007, pp. 124-43.


Reads the passages describing the deaths of Wat Tyler, of Simon Sudbury, and of the Flemish victims of the mob in VC 1 both through the echoes of the earlier works from which Gower has borrowed, in the manner of "cento," key lines and passages, and through theories of sacrificial violence derived from René Girard and Nancy Jay. That Tyler should be seen as a fitting sacrifice is not a surprise; that Sudbury is is a bit more surprising; but Gower displays considerable sympathy for the Flemings. "Gower emphasizes the spectacle of carnage surely to shock those in his ecclesiastical audience into reflection upon the events of the moment. . . . In the events of Tower Hill, the mock altar upon which the archbishop yielded up his spirit, these readers would surely see the implications of the execution of one of their own. Certainly these Latin readers would infer the meaning of unburied corpses lying about as silent witness to all the souls that had gone unsaved, to all the prayers that had been left unspoken. Certainly these Latin readers would be reminded of the mob violence that had a habit of repeating itself during Holy Week; surely they would see the need to wash their hands or accept responsibility for their own actions" (135-36). The poet's identification of himself in the riddling passage at the beginning of Book 1 represents Gower's own self-sacrifice: "In a brilliant move of self-conscious submission, the poet presents himself to the critical axe of his ecclesiastical audience. By enacting his own death in a symbolic sacrifice and taking on the mantle of John, the poet gains the authority of the sacred; at the moment that that transformation occurs he empowers the poem to speak for itself" (138). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Vox Clamantis

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