Gower Bibliography

Gower's 'Confessio Amantis,' Natural Morality, and Vernacular Ethics

Mitchell, J. Allan. "Gower's 'Confessio Amantis,' Natural Morality, and Vernacular Ethics." In John Gower: Manuscripts, Readers, Contexts. Ed. Urban, Malte. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009, pp. 135-53.


"Gower's Confessio Amantis . . . vernacularizes ethics for an emerging English polity," Mitchell contends (137)—meaning by "vernacularizing" not merely that Gower wrote in English, but that he put forward an alternative, pointedly practical (and hence un-scholastic) branch of Aristotelian ethics that more suited his readers and himself. "Gower opens ethics up to the 'sensis communis,' or what the poet thinks should be a common sense educated in the humanities, and he is characteristically rhetorical rather than metaphysical in his orientation toward ethics" (137). He settles ethical choice squarely on the individual: "Gower is especially skeptical of the idea of morality as theophany. God cannot be held responsible, Gower teaches, for ethics remains within the orbit of practical reason rather than inspiration or revelation" (150). Such an ethics is especially suited to narrative exemplification: "The exemplary narrative . . . supplements even as it desublimates the philosophy of natural law, or rather it creates a narrative ethics out of normative ethical theory . . . . The vernacular narratives of the Confessio are meant to make, move, and improve the 'res publica'" (151). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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