Gower Bibliography

The Art of Swooning in Middle English

Windeatt, Barry. "The Art of Swooning in Middle English." In Medieval Latin and Middle English Literature: Essays in Honour of Jill Mann. Ed. Cannon, Christopher and Nolan, Maura. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2011, pp. 211-30. ISBN 9781843842637


Why is it, Windeatt wonders, that swooning is so common in medieval and early modern visual and literary art (the former depicting primarily the Virgin), and seldom probed by modern scholar/critics? While he never directly answers that question, he nonetheless does many others, picking out swoons and cataloguing them according to many types and purposes as he traverses, first painting, then literature from the bible to "The Court of Love" (ca. 1535). Gower furnishes him with a clutch of examples, all (per his title) from the "Confessio Amantis." These can be charted as follows: "Grief and shock of confronting another's death and mourning over a body": Thisbe discovering the lifeless Pyramus faints (III.1455)(p. 218) / "Swoons of recognition register shock at separation and loss, at partings and abandonment": Medea parting with Jason (V.3647); Ariadne (V.5466-67) / "Situation in which pleas and petitions for pity are voiced, or complaints and lamentations uttered": Canace (III.232-34) / "The widespread convention in medieval texts of multiple and serial swooning": Ariadne (V.5467); Apollonius (VIII.1060, 1077); Constance (II.846, 1063) / "Instances where a swoon registers . . . a self-absenting from something abhorrent": the king's daughter confessing to her father's incestuous rape in "Apollonius" (VIII.332); Lucretia (VII.4986) / "Swoons induced by shock and fury lead on to resolution, whether just or unjust": Procne (V.5788/5792-93). Windeatt also asks "Does the cumulative incidence of swooning across medieval literature suggest that, for this bodily practice at least, cultural attitudes to human behaviour have shifted perceptibly?" (p.224) He cites Anaxarete's frequent swooning over the dead Iphis as one of many "cases where instances of swooning were added to medieval versions of stories from earlier times and different cultures . . . [which] might be presented as evidence that a demonstrative sensibility is more pleasing to medieval taste than to taste before or since" (p. 224). "Swoons," he goes on to say, "become inseparable from the medieval stereotype of a lover's conduct," an example of which is Amans' swoon (VIII.2449) "when Venus intimates that he is too old for love" (p. 225). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata