Gower Bibliography

'He fond the schip of gret array': Implications of John Gower's Maritime Vocabulary.

Keohane, Colin J. "'He fond the schip of gret array': Implications of John Gower's Maritime Vocabulary." SELIM: Journal of the Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature 18 (2011), pp. 103-27. ISSN 1132-631X


Keohane examines Gower's maritime vocabulary in the CA. His scope thus does not include "To King Henry IV In Praise of Peace" nor any of the French or Latin poems--though he suggests further attention to the MO would likely be fruitful, and hints at a subsequent, expanded study forthcoming. He notes: "A survey of phrases and terms that refer to nautical technology in Gower's 'Confessio Amantis' reveals familiarity with a primarily Anglo-French, large-ship tradition while hinting at a possible direct experiential connection with elements of Iberian or Mediterranean trade networks" (103). He classifies four contexts for Gower's nautical imagery: "in the setting of the Ricardian Prologue; when retelling maritime scenes drawn from earlier sources; as imagery of love; and in incidental observations" (105). He also compares Gower's use of specific nautical terms to Chaucer's, concluding that the latter's is generalized and unspecific, except in cases (e.g., the "Man of Law's Tale") where Chaucer clearly borrowed from Gower (118-21), thus lending support to the claim that Gower's version was Chaucer's first source. "Gower's use of nautical terms . . . often shows a level of technical awareness surprising in a landsman . . . . All of Gower's type-specific vocabulary refer only to technologies that would have been used on large sailing ships of the time" (111). By contrast, "Chaucer only superficially employs any maritime vocabulary" (119). Detailed discussion of the terms "luff," as a verb (114-15), "reef," as a verb (117-18), and in particular the term "topseilcole"--a form derived from "topsail" at a time when "as far as we know, English ships--indeed all the ships of the Northern European tradition--[had no] topsails in their rig until almost fifty years after Gower's death" (113). "The image of John Gower that emerges . . . is one of a man thoroughly familiar with a primarily Anglo-French, large-ship tradition" (112) but also, and more provocatively, Keohane argues for Gower's direct, first-hand knowledge of Iberian and Mediterranean shipping, an idea that draws strength from the Iberian translations of the CA. Gower's knowledge of ships extends beyond mere close observation of vessels in the Thames from his wharf in Southwark, or a keen ear for multi-national sailors' speech in the City. "To use ['reef'] properly," as Gower does, "the poet would require at least some additional understanding of the mechanics of sailing and related nautical practice" (117-18). Similarly, "the practice of luffing can really only be observed from the deck of a ship" and likewise "the appreciation of a topseilcole . . . is something that is noticed when a ship is underway. It is a memory retained by a sailor and not a landsman. These are the words and thoughts of a participant in maritime life, not those of an outsider" (118). Keohane speculates that many of Gower's targeted audience(s) may have been among the rising merchant class, individuals who, like Gower, would have known shipping through trade (121-22), and concludes by noting "the John Gower revealed in the maritime vocabulary of the Confessio Amantis is thus a man who was conversant with the language and technology of Anglo-French as well as Mediterranean ships and shipping. He was likely connected by both political and economic networks to the Iberian Peninsula, probably though his Lancastrian sympathies but possibly through the wool trade" (123). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 34.2.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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