Gower Bibliography

Why did Gower Write the Traitié?

Hume, Cathy. "Why did Gower Write the Traitié?" In John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition. Ed. Dutton, Elisabeth, and Hines, John, and Yeager, R.F. Cambridge: Brewer, 2010, pp. 263-75.


Agreeing with others' recent rejection of the once-general theory that Gower wrote the Traitié as a wedding present for his wife, or as "a clever virtuoso French reworking of the Confessio" (266) to which it is attached in many manuscripts, Hume finds a clue to Gower's motivation in the balades' focus on adultery. "What is most striking, in my view," she notes, "is that [the Traitié] "shows signs of being addressed to a reader (or readers) who is (or are) already engaged in adultery" (267). Indeed, "there are several indications that the point at issue is not embarking on adultery but carrying on with it, failing to repent of it, or failing to stop when warned" (267). Another clue Hume pursues is "the poem's [i.e., the Traitié's] preoccupation with kings" (269). Observing that the Mirour de l'Omme also names many kings, she finds "striking similarities" with the treatment of David there and in the Traitié balade XIV (268), including God's punishment on the adulterous ruler and his people, bringing the former low and suffering upon the latter (269-70). She then examines a theory first proposed by Gardiner Stillwell in 1948 that perhaps Gower intended Edward III and Alice Perrers as his targets, countering the problem of so early a composition date as October 1376-June 1377, when Edward died, with the assertion that no hard evidence exists to pinpoint when Gower wrote the Traitié (273). The choice of French, then, "would be readily explained by [it] being the dominant language of Edward's court" 274). But there are other possibilities too. "Another . . . is that the intended addressee is John of Gaunt, the other notorious royal adulterer of the period"—a suggestion she credits in a note to "Mark Ormrod . . . in conversation" (274). If reforming either of these "royal" adulterers was Gower's purpose, then "the envoy, the prefatory French prose and the concluding Latin [are] all a way of deflecting our attention from the daring agenda and addressee of the original poem" (275). "If so," she asks further, "the reason for this smokescreen would be Gower's desire to give his elegant (if rather hectoring) ballade sequence a longer life once its original purpose had been superseded: events moved on, whether or not Gower ever delivered the poem to either Edward or Gaunt, and the poem could no longer stand on its own" (275). The answer to such questions, Hume concludes, is beyond us, but we can at least "reject Gower's claim that it [the Traitié] was originally composed with 'tout le monde' ('all the world') in mind" (275).] [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Traité pour Essampler les Amants Marietz

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