Gower Bibliography

The Politics of Strengthe and Vois in Gower's Loathly Lady Tale

Yeager, R.F. "The Politics of Strengthe and Vois in Gower's Loathly Lady Tale." In The English "Loathly Lady" Tales: Boundaries, Traditions, Motifs. Ed. Passmore, S. Elizabeth and Carter, Susan. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2007, pp. 42-72.


Gower's "Tale of Florent" is aptly suited for the purposes of instruction of Amans, Yeager notes, but it has more than a single target. Book 1 is not only drawn almost exclusively from classical sources; it is marked by the "clear effort Gower made to situate his narratives historically" (p. 45), mostly in the ancient past. In conjunction with the use of Latin for the verse headings and marginalia and the choice of Roman deities for the frame, the insistent antiquity of the stories helps lend authority to Gower's vernacular text. But it also, Yeager suggests, serves as a way of blunting and camouflaging—self-protectively—the poet's direct critique of his contemporaries, another of the purposes of the poem which Gower sets out expressly in his Prologue. The "historical matrix" for the tales is provided by Nebuchadnezzar's statue, which "helps reinforce just how far distant from the present they are to be taken" (p. 47) but also helps direct the attention of alert readers to the comparison of past and present, with all of the statue's implications of degeneration and decay; and to emphasize the relation, Yeager points out that Book 1 includes tales that can be matched to each of the five ages that the diverse materials of the statue represent. The marginal gloss firmly sets "Florent" as a Roman tale, from the "Age of Brass." The analogues suggest that this must have been Gower's deliberate choice, and the purpose, Yeager suggests, has to do with the tale's implicit "political critique" (p. 50). Though set in the past, the tale still concerns a knight and knighthood; and the "primary dichotomy" in the tale, unique to Gower's version, is between "obedience" and "strength" (CA 1.1401-2), "precisely the problematic facing the barony" in an age that was rife with "Murmur and Complaint" (p. 53). After Florent has demonstrated his strength in his successful combat with Branchus, it is "through his gentility . . . that the 'grantdame' (CA I.1445) perceives a means to neutralize Florent's combat potential" (p. 53), and "strengthe," from this point in the tale on, shifts from the purely physical to the inner strength manifested in Florent's "trouthe." At the same time, Gower emphasizes the "division" in Florent's struggle with the alternatives that he faces. These are resolved with his surrender to his lady and his decision to grant her "myn hole vois" (CA 1.1828). "For the first time since his quarrel began, Florent's quarreling inner voices are silenced at the prospect of reintegration. 'Bothe on,' the two will speak with a single 'vois,' and by this at last grow 'hole'" (p. 55). The construction of this scene recalls both the political (e.g. in the 'commun vois') and the apocalyptic significance that Gower attaches to "voice" in both CA and in his other works, notably in the Vox Clamantis, and again extends the tale beyond its merely literal application. "The political message of 'The Tale of Florent' is, . . . on one level, that the knightly class has only to gain by ceding sovereignty to where it rightly belongs" (p. 58), but "the political applicability [of the tale] extends to all whose Pride has led to Murmur and Complaint, and outright Inobedience to established sovereign rule" (p. 59). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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