Gower Bibliography

Lessons for a King from John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'.

McKinley, Kathryn. "Lessons for a King from John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis'." In Metamorphoses: The Changing Face of Ovid in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Ed. Keith, Allison and Rupp, Stephen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007, pp. 107-28.


Gower's primary concern in the Confessio Amantis was with politics, specifically right kingship and governance, prompted in large part, in McKinley's view, by his growing dissatisfaction with Richard II. Ovid, McKinley argues, was particularly useful to Gower in presenting both his views of right rule and his critique of Richard, who, McKinley believes, was among the Confessio's readers. "Throughout the Confessio Gower engages Ovid to effect metamorphosis within the understanding of his royal reader or his counselors. The most important transformation in Gower occurs when Genius interprets the tale for Amans, and thus for the king: what results is metamorphosis in hermeneutical terms" (p. 108). Following David Wallace's identification (in "Chaucerian Polity") of husband and wife as stand-ins in late medieval discourse for king and realm, McKinley provides close readings of two tale from Book V of the Confessio: "Jason and Medea" (3247-4229) and "Tereus" (5550-6074). After comparing each to Ovid's version and, as relevant, in other sources (Óvide moralisé," "Ovidius moralizatus," "Roman de Troie"), McKinley concludes that "In rendering the Jason and Tereus tales, Gower seems to follow Ovid's emphases much more strongly that those of the medieval moralising tradition . . . . Gower's political readings are finally similar to the classical uses of such characters and dissimilar to medieval moralising versions that then read such characters as emblematic of sinful spiritual states. By following closely Ovid's own emphases, Gower in this section of Book Five presents negative illustrations of rulers who violate oaths of various kinds. When one considers the various versions of these stories available to Gower and examines his departures from them, on can see both the independence of his judgment and his determination to recreate a more truly 'Ovidian' telling of each tale. In the Confession Amantis, Gower is concerned not just with the larger rubric of Amans' confession of sins to Genius; he intends above all to employ this larger framework to mediate his own reflections on proper governance and self-rule" (p. 127). [RFY. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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