Gower Bibliography

Responses to the Frame Narrative of John Gower's Confessio Amantis in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Scottish Literature.

Martin, Joanna M. "Responses to the Frame Narrative of John Gower's Confessio Amantis in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Scottish Literature." Review of English Studies 60 (2009), pp. 561-77. ISSN 0034-6551


Martin surveys the few tantalizing references to the existence of MSS of the Confessio Amantis in Scotland before 1600. From them she infers that Gower's poetry was known and "was regarded as appropriate reading matter, or at least a fashionable addition to the library, for the intellectual elite, and the landed but also urban classes of late medieval and early modern Scotland" (563). The bulk of her essay, however, is concerned with tracing the influence of the CA in three Scottish works, each of which use it in a different but equally informed way. The anonymous prose "Spectacle of Luf" (1492) is framed as a dialogue between an old knight and his son on the dangers of the latter's subjection to love. The lessons, with their accompanying exempla, are divided into eight sections. The epilogue contains several detailed recollections of the ending of the Confessio. As the aged narrator abandons the didactic role of the main body of the poem, moreover, the ending recalls some of the ambivalences of Gower's conclusion and even "confronts the uncomfortable prospect considered by Gower . . . that maturity does not always bring a natural release form moral waywardness" (567). The reactions of the younger man to his father's lessons also recalls the stubborn persistence in love of Gower's Amans. Both works "therefore ultimately question the usefulness of the advisory genres to which they belong, foregrounding the power of readers to deflect the instructional intentions of authors in pursuit of validation of their own desires" (569), and they also draw a link between a lack self-governance in the ruler or ruling class and the resultant dangers of social disorder. Gavin Douglas' "Palice of Honour" (c. 1501) actually mentions Gower (in the company of Chaauer and Lydgate) by name. In part 1, the narrator's encounter with Venus contains recollections both of the opening of the CA and of Gower's "Tale of Rosiphelee." Like Gower, Douglas portrays his narrator "as one drawn perilously to the attractions of Venus's court, yet highly unsuitable for it, and unwelcome to its deity" (572), though the result is the narrator's rejection of love rather than a supplication for Venus's aid. And the narrator's second encounter with Venus, in part 3, recalls the conclusion to Gower's poem. "In both Confessio Amantis and The Palice of Honour, . . . the narrators are urged to use their literary skills in more fitting ways than writing about erotic love, in the service, respectively, of moral virtue and virtuous honour" (574). John Rolland's "Court of Venus" (c. 1560) also cites Gower by name, invoking him as an authority on how to avoid the dangers of subjection to Venus. It also imitates Gower in its conclusion, as the elderly narrator is expelled from Venus's court, but like "The Spectacle of Luf," it "returns to the problematic implications of the close of the Confessio Amantis" (576) that stories like those told by Genius "rarely succeed in convincing lovers to reform themselves," and it "leaves the reader with the problematic image of the poet-narrator as the reluctant outcast from Venus's court rather than the source of moral and ethical exemplarity" (576). Each of these three works also draws from other authors and "do not constitute a tradition," but as Martin notes in her conclusion, "they do give a clear indication of a Scottish habit of reading the Confessio Amantis that does not have an exact equivalent in contemporary English literature" (577). [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 29.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Influence and Later Allusion

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