Gower Bibliography

The Economy of Need in Late Medieval English Literature

Galloway, Andrew. "The Economy of Need in Late Medieval English Literature." Viator 40 (2009), pp. 309-331. ISSN 0083-5897


"Since the eighteenth century," Galloway contends, "economic thought has made identity legible in terms of production, consumption, and profit . . . . In later medieval culture social thought was often framed in terms of an economy of need" (310). Proceeding from the canonists (Gratian, and especially Aquinas [cf. Sum. Theo. 2a2ae q.77 art. 4], Galloway illustrates the presence of the notion of a common possession of necessities for all men to share when in exigency in the writings of English chroniclers (e.g., Knighton), canonists (William Lyndwood), Ranulph Higden, in John of Trevisa's translation (and Trevisa himself, in his "Dialogue" of 1387), and in "the London writers" Gower, Chaucer, and Langland. These "especially elaborated the contradictions of this frame of thought" (310); they each, despite their different temperaments and concerns, share a "critical scrutiny [that] shows how the idea of an 'economy of need' would ultimately collapse" (310). Galloway identifies Gower's narrative of "The Trump of Death" (CA 1.2021-2253) in which "poverty and age are reducible to the same 'ymage'--whose value is precisely that it reflects the viewer and the donor, not the perspective of the needy themselves" (319). The king in the tale thus can be read in "the surrogate role of natural law, by which he is able to impose the terror of mortality" (320). Gower's shaping of his material in "The Trump of Death" can thus be seen as "an acceptance of royal absolutism, by analogy with the arbitrary force of necessity," but also (and this seems to be more Galloway's own view) "as highlighting and critiquing how kings usurp the power of necessity for their own all-too-human desires, which here turn out to be mercifully instructive if somewhat cruelly applied, but which might as easily have been turned to more pernicious ends" (320).] [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 28.2]

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

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