Gower Bibliography

'The Tale of Constance' in Context

Yeager, R. F.. "'The Tale of Constance' in Context." 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. 159-71. ISBN 9781603290999


Yeager first reminds us, with due acknowledgement to Peter Nicholson, that Gower, not Chaucer, was the first redactor of the tale in Nicholas Trevet's "Chronicle," and it was he who distilled it into the form with which we are more familiar. While referring to Trevet at various junctures of his essay, then, Yeager focuses on the differences between the tales of Gower and Chaucer, and, just as importantly, between their tellers. Students can usually "see that the Man of Law is not 'Chaucer'" (162): this pilgrim "is an active teller, one of the most intrusive, in fact, in 'The Canterbury Tales'" (162), and one who is clearly "trying to win a free dinner at the Southwark Inn" (163). In the "Confessio Amantis," Genius is also an "authorial screen," but the temptation to mistake him . . . for "Gower" seems to be much greater, and consequently harder to banish" (162). His role is to "enlighten Amans . . . who, for most of Gower's poem, is the only other 'real' persona we encounter" (163). Obviously, this "framing fiction . . . will raise quite different demands" for storytelling than does Chaucer's, and thus considering the tale of Constance "in context," Yeager focuses on Gower's "poetics," or what he does with imagery and language that distinguish his treatment of the subject from that of others. The use of particular words and images repeatedly, in a variety of contexts and for different purposes, over the course of his treatment of Envy, the section of the poem that includes his tale of Acis and Galatea as well as that of Constance, reveals "what is exclusively and characteristically Gower's (163). In the end, his "Constance, by design a part of a very different, intentionally exemplary form of narrative [than Chaucer's], remains more 'constant' and loses not an ounce of her integrity or any of her value as a model of obedient virtue" (170). At the same time that virtue here garners a rich "poetic" analysis, then, the tale manifests the "unique, multilayed exemplarity of Gower's" which is what "we strive to teach our students . . . to see and to appreciate knowledgeably" (170). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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