Gower Bibliography

Ethics, Rhetorical Accommodation, and Vernacularity in Gower's Confessio Amantis

McCabe, T. Matthew N. "Ethics, Rhetorical Accommodation, and Vernacularity in Gower's Confessio Amantis." PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 2010.


"Many critics have seen 'Confessio Amantis' as a work of reformist rhetoric that, drawing deeply on medieval Aristotelian conflations of ethics and politics, urges readers toward personal moral reform as the crucial means by which to heal the body politic. In such a view, the moral and public interests on full display in 'Mirour de l'Omme,' 'Vox Clamantis,' and elsewhere remain central to Gower's purpose in 'Confessio.' However, while 'Mirour' and 'Vox' also foreground religious concerns, 'Confessio' is often seen as "secular" in a modern sense. I argue in this dissertation that 'Confessio' indeed bears strong affinities to Gower's other religious-ethical-political works, and that the main differences that set it apart from them must be understood in connection with Gower's decision to write this work 'in oure Englissh.' Notwithstanding its debt to aristocratic culture, 'Confessio' imagines a broader and more popular audience than do 'Vox' and 'Mirour.' Gower's novel language choice has major implications especially for Confessio's uncharacteristically delicate handling of religion. Chapter 1 examines Confessio's Ovidian debt and suggests that Confessio's many invocations of 'Metamorphoses,' given that poem's fourteenth-century reception, align 'Confessio' with Ovidian universal satire in a way that suggests totalizing religious-ethical-political synthesis. However, 'Confessio' departs from the mainstream of fourteenth-century commentated Ovids by stripping 'Metamorphoses' of its clergial patina and, crucially, adopting a markedly lay stance. Investigating Gower's attitude to English vernacularity, chapter 2 notes Confessio's association of translation with decay and demonstrates that scientific and theological passages in Gower's English works adopt a lower register than analogous passages in his Latin works. Chapter 3 investigates the probable causes of these downward modulations, comparing Gower's sense of linguistic decorum to those discernible in contemporary English vernacular theology. Chapters 4 and 5--on metamorphosis and art, respectively--argue that Gower finds in Ovidian writing rich resources particularly adaptable to the most delicate of Gower's rhetorical tasks in Confessio: to address, as layman, a lay audience on matters that are unavoidably, and indeed largely, religious. The dissertation concludes by suggesting that Gower's voice of lay religious critique plays an important role in the histories of laicization and secularization."

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:DAI-A 72.1 (2011)
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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