Gower Bibliography

Teaching Gower and the Law

Boboc, Andreea. "Teaching Gower and the Law." 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. 59-66. ISBN Modern Language Association of America


Boboc suggests a number of approaches to teaching Gower and the law to upper-division undergraduates and graduate students. She usually begins her own course by introducing students to major legal resources, often by having them research a legal topic within a particular field of law (e.g., medieval law of contract, maritime law, natural law) as a preface to discussing a particular tale from the "Confessio Amantis." She draws on existing "interdisciplinary engagements with law and literature" for models (here her example is Sebastian Sobecki's chapter on Apollonius, maritime law, insularity, and identity). She introduces brief histories of medieval connections between law and literature, identifies challenges in pursuing interdisciplinary work, and offers a prospect of moving into the field of "new legal history" or the exploration of linkages among legal history, social science, and cultural and literary texts. More specifically, Boboc suggests, "medievalists can contribute to [this history] by engaging with what Bruce Holsinger has called 'vernacular legality'" or "the strategic manipulation of legal discourse by vernacular writers, who contribute to legal imagination and legal discourse by responding (sometimes correctively) to existent legal practices" (60). Relevant here is "the legal bilingualism of the 'Confessio'" and Gower's decision variously to use Latin or vernacular English "to discuss legal procedures and offenses" (61-62), and, further, sometimes to identify a legal phenomenon by its technical name and sometimes to describe it phenomenologically and withhold the name. Boboc sees additional prospects for teachers in using "the body of scholarship on Gower's audiences and multilingualism to discuss the relationship between language and truth, especially in the light of Richard F. Green's 'Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England'" (62). Near the close of her essay, Boboc introduces "hard cases," using the instances of Medea and (more briefly) Orestes, for example, to explore the question of "whether homicide is ever justified" (62). In another vein, she suggests drawing "on Giorgio Agamben's biopolitical theory of sovereignty to investigate the dangers posed by kings to their subjects whenever they reduce subjects to ‘bare life'" (65). In particular, "sovereign power challenges the moral and legal order because sovereignty belongs to the law but, at the same time, paradoxically constitutes itself outside it" (65). Gower's works create an opportunity for fertile conversation on a range of other legal topics as well: "What counts as truth or evidence or a fair punishment? How do emotions influence the practice of justice? What are the legal duties of a leader? When does the law oppose justice?" (66). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Confessio Amantis

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