Gower Bibliography

Rhetoric, John Gower, and the Late Medieval Exemplum

Olsson, Kurt O. "Rhetoric, John Gower, and the Late Medieval Exemplum." Medievalia et Humanistica 8 (1977), pp. 185-200. ISSN 0076-6127


Olsson argues that in Chaucer's CT and in Gower's CA the apparently simplistic exemplum "becomes a complex form" (186). Olsson begins by pointing out that even in Gower's MO we already have a variety of exemplum types. The form can encompass the similitude or "homoeosis" (e.g., the tale of Ulysses and the Sirens), the precedential exemplum (e.g, the story of Codrus), the use exemplars (in part 3 of the MO), or the complex and meditative mode used in the final section of the MO, the life of the Virgin and Christ. Of particular interest in this overview are Olsson's comments on the overlap between exemplarity and allegory. In the CA, the exempla "demand our attention because the referent – which can be, beyond a specific idea, an auditor or speaker – does not always suit the narrative and because the tale and its referents can both be drawn into a fiction" (194). For example, the Tale of Rosiphelee suits the needs of Amans in Book 4, but is contradicted by the final message of the book. The reason is that in Book 4 love is judged according to nature, whereas in Book 8 the standard is reason (195). The exemplarity of Gower's stories thus "rests on the rhetoric: As the context of argument changes, tales and ideas assume a new value in the whole, and the result is an integral and more adequate insight into the complexity of human experience, as well as a fuller grasp of what a 'reule' demands. . . . In Gower's rhetoric, as in Chaucer's, the story often encourages the quest of a truth which is greater than that expressed in the tale itself" (196). [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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