Gower Bibliography

Teaching the 'Confessio Amantis' as a Humanist Document of the First English Renaissance

Peck, Russell A. "Teaching the 'Confessio Amantis' as a Humanist Document of the First English Renaissance." In Approaches to Teaching the Poetry of John Gower. Ed. Yeager, R. F., and Gastle, Brian W. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2011, pp. 42-53. ISBN 9781603290999


In his British and medieval survey courses, Peck has taught Gower as a proto-humanist writer who distinguishes himself in five humanistic endeavors. 1) Gower evaluated "the ancients on their own terms," which paradoxically requires "translation of ethical and moral issues into 'our language.'" 2) He uncovers the complexity and "subtleties of reading as a mental, incorporative process," and, as a notably practical humanist, Gower recognized that "every reader functions as an individual perpetually making choices and drawing conclusions according to a combination of past experience and memory, strongly overshadowed by personal biases." 3) He drew upon "the rapid advance of empirical thought in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries," exploring "how the human brain works in conjunction with the senses to construct images . . . plots . . . and conclusions" and how it "works to effect both literary production and readerly reception." 4) Gower recognized, in keeping with his social humanism, that the "individual is part of a human estate" and "a social entity" with "an innate responsibility--a kingdom to justify outside oneself as well as within." 5) Because "these mental phenomena are linguistic and rhetorical," Peck contends, Gower observably understood that "the processes of making a good end" require "a transformational shift relative to another place" and "an adjustment requiring a different kind of voicing" (42-43). These endeavors, so introduced at the outset, are then richly exemplified and elaborated in subsequent sections of Peck's essay. The last point, however, may warrant a brief explanatory note. Peck had earlier described the "dark conclusion of the poem" where "Amans, though he has heard much and often responded intelligently, falls back into the confusion of his original biases and appears to have learned little" (49). Now the poet provides a shift in voicing, however, "to disengage the reader from the retelling of the plot" (50). Thus, "old John Gower [is sent] back to his books . . . to study moral virtue," and "this directive redefines the purposes of the protagonist, extracting him from his fiction so that he can make a more definitive concluding pronouncement" (51), a resolution to pray upon the points of the shrift and for the welfare of England. [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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