Gower Bibliography

Gower's Confessio Amantis, the Prick of Conscience, and the History of the Latin Gloss in Early English Literature

Galloway, Andrew. "Gower's Confessio Amantis, the Prick of Conscience, and the History of the Latin Gloss in Early English Literature." In John Gower: Manuscripts, Readers, Contexts. Ed. Urban, Malte. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009, pp. 39-70.


Recognizing that glossing establishes a form of "multi-voicing" in poetry, Galloway remarks that "such glossing of Middle English manuscripts is relatively rare, and generally thin when it appears" (40). The CA, however, offers "the great exception to this faint tradition of Latin glosses on English poetry" and because of the nonpareil nature of Gower's practice there, "this suggests that we need a fuller history of Latin glosses of English verse to appreciate its dynamic if ghostly functions, certainly to appreciate the unusual role that Gower has cast it in" (40). While not purporting to offer a complete version of that "fuller history," Galloway suggests the case of "The Prick of Conscience" as "an alternate tradition of Latin glossing of English poetry that points toward possibilities not otherwise exploited in the English literary tradition, not even by Gower" (41) and notes that "the case presents a particularly useful way to ponder the meaning of the relation between text and gloss in the Confessio Amantis as well" (43). The glosses in the "Prick of Conscience," Galloway argues convincingly via examples and illustrations of full pages (45-64), "are vital intellectual materials because the English text of that poem touches on matters where the Latin and English doctrinal materials have a living context and tradition, the confessional world" and it is a world in which "the glosses [are] productive of other glosses for the same reason: an audience that energetically uses it and needs it, with all the complexity they can find in it and explicate from it for themselves and others. 'The Prick of Conscience' glosses are extensions of the cultural energy that the poem itself was part of, in sifting sin, punishment, and penance" (65) This multi-vocal glossing tradition helps clarify Gower's practice, by contrast: his glosses have a "deadening and timeless quality . . . . Their point is clear only in its further highlighting of the vividness and action of the English poetry, and in terms of a subtle rejection of the clerically controlled confessional world. He addressed, at least potentially, a readership able to appreciate the irony of dull Latin glosses to rich English stories, just at the copyists and readers of the 'Prick of Conscience' addressed an audience possibly able to appreciate the enrichment of vital Latin glosses on moral theology. Gower's glosses at best emphasize by contrast the English poetry's display of individual and civic self-determination, and its psychological complexities of sin that no priest can take up and absolve, for which a secular writer is needed to impose the terms of civic and secular soul-searching and ethical ideals" (65). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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