Gower Bibliography

Educating Richard: Incest, Marriage, and (Political) Consent in Gower's 'Tale of Apollonius'

Sobecki, Sebastian I. "Educating Richard: Incest, Marriage, and (Political) Consent in Gower's 'Tale of Apollonius'." Anglia 125 (2007), pp. 205-16.


Gower's tale of Apollonius, Sobecki argues, forms part of the poet's artful attempt to offer advice to his king on the limits upon, and on the most effective way of exercising, his rule. The tale is preceded by a 200-line prologue that is concerned not so much with incest itself or with the "natural" taboo that prevents it as with "the legal discourse that has generated the incest prohibition. As Genius puts it at the end of his prologue, his concern will be 'lust' or lechery in relation to the law: 'Hou lust of love excedeth lawe, / It oghte for to be withdrawe" (CA, VIII.263-64)" (p. 209). Antiochus' offenses against his daughter are situated in "a place lying outside of the Christian restrictions on incest. . . . Measured against the yardstick of Genius' legalistic 'lust of love excedeth lawe", Antiochus is only partly guilty: he cannot be aware that he is offending canon law since he inhabits and gives birth to a pagan world of legend governed by natural law" (p. 210). His real offense is that he makes no attempt to marry his daughter, as in other similar tales, and his incest "is but a thematic device to demonstrate the efficacy of marriage as a cure for lechery. . . . [and that] it is legal discourse that regulates the definitional boundaries between lechery, incest, and marriage" (p. 211). Marriage also provides a metaphor for the relation between the ruler and his subjects. In the tale, Apollonius is not called "king" until after his marriage with Arcestrates' daughter. "It becomes clear that, like incest, Apollonius' political status is discursive, and the title of prince, which stands here for 'ruler, sovereign', is transformed by marriage into the king that he will become later" (p. 212). One important link between marriage and kingship is that both are based upon consent. Apollonius' abandonment of Tyre at the beginning of the tale takes place without "comun assent" (8.493), while his marriage at the end is sanctioned by the unanimous consent of a specially summoned parliament (8.1989-91). "This passage fuses two streams of assent or consensus, the political and the matrimonial one, in a final expression of marriage as a metaphor for harmonious polity" (p. 215). "Rather than viewing the tale as an expression of political cynicism or disillusionment," Sobecki concludes, "I propose to read Gower's legal interplay of incest, marriage, and kingship—fed through he catalyst of Apollonius—as an attempt to suggest to Richard that he should rule his realm in the same way in which he leads his marriage—with conjugal love" (p. 216). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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