Gower Bibliography

Constance in the World in Chaucer and Gower

Wetherbee, Winthrop. "Constance in the World in Chaucer and Gower." In John Gower: Recent Readings. Papers Presented at the Meetings of the John Gower Society at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, 1983-88. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Studies in Medieval Culture (26). Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1989, pp. 65-93.


Concerned with Chaucer's "Man of Law's Tale," but argues that the examples of Gower's version of the story and of the CA as a whole, as invoked in MLIntro, provide a standard of moral responsibility that helps reveal the moral void at the heart of ML's performance. ML's allusions to "Canace" and to "Apollonius of Tyre" reveal both a preoccupation with incest and an inability to appreciate the positive lesson of Gower's tales, the importance of cultural institutions in "guiding and giving value to fallible natural impulse" (p. 67). Both attitudes also characterize ML's handling of his tale. The latter is revealed in the contrast between his Constance -- solitary, helpless, and consistently detached from any meaningful social reality -- and Gower's -- active, engaged with those around her, and fully portrayed in her roles as both wife and mother. ML's "stiflingly possessive attitude" towards his heroine (p. 69), his "desperate anxiety" (p. 96) about normal social relations and human feelings, moreover, amount to a type of incest that unwittingly recalls the tale's most traditional themes. The ostensible "moral" of the tale thus coexists uneasily with the private preoccupations of the teller. The combination reflects an ambivalence towards authority that stems from the teller's social status, Wetherbee suggests. It also points to the broader difference between the compassionate but morally normative CA and Chaucer's willingness to dramatize the tensions of his society more radically in CT. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

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

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