Gower Bibliography

Lydgate and the Trace of Gower

Edwards, Robert R. "Lydgate and the Trace of Gower." South Atlantic Review 79.3-4 (2015), pp. 156-70. ISSN 0277-335X


In the mid-fifteenth century Osbert Bokenham and George Ashby both canonized the familiar poetic trinity of Gower, Chaucer, and Lydgate as "the first rhetoricians" (Bokenham) and "premier poets" (Ashby) of England. Lydgate, the latecomer to this party, makes public and obvious his many appropriations of Chaucer as a poetic father. Edwards takes up the question of Lydgate as a descendant of moral Gower, a "deep source" for Lydgate as a public poet, visible in Lydgate's poetry only in what Lydgate figures as a "poetic trace" (156). Like his two predecessors, Lydgate joins a long tradition of medieval writers constructing fictions of authorship for earlier texts on which they have no claim to be coevals. Chaucer famously uses these constructions as an arena for play and deferral of literary authority from the historian Lollius to Chaucer the pilgrim. Edwards reminds us, however, that Gower asserts his authorship by deploying most of the terms Alastair Minnis has identified for us, and as such asserts a strong claim as a crucial forerunner for Lydgate. In "Fall of Princes" Lydgate himself puts Gower into a different triumvirate with Ralph Strode and Richard Rolle, a grouping that invokes a late-medieval vernacular humanism within which Lydgate created his poetic space. While Gower's meditations on social and political divisions remain unacknowledged in Lydgate's "Siege of Thebes" and "Serpent of Division" (as Maura Nolan points out), Gower's influence lingers in Lydgate's grasp of Lancastrian cycles of crisis at the difficult moment when the minor Henry VI ascends the throne in 1422. In the "Fall of Princes" Lydgate's chapter on Constantine seems to be drawn unacknowledged from Book II of Gower's CA, reshaping Gower's emphasis on pity to assemble the virtue of "royal compassion" that aligns spiritual interests with temporal power in terms that parallel Constantine with Lydgate's patron Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The tale of Canace and Machaire in the "Fall" also reshapes Gower's version by expanding Canace's complaint to counterbalance the ravages of epic-heroic patriarchy surrounding her. More broadly, Edwards argues, Gower offered Lydgate a mode of address to the powerful in a particular state of being: triumph and conquest. Gower's odes, admonitions, and advice on peace and justice serve Lydgate as both a framework and an idiom for "Troy Book" and "Siege of Thebes." Lydgate's address to Henry V at the end of "Troy Book" deploys terms Gower uses to praise Henry's father: a mighty conqueror whose royal lineage is both secured by descent and ratified by election, but whose condition is always subject to mutable Fortune. While Chaucer remains Lydgate's example for poetic achievement in English, Gower in Edwards' view shows Lydgate how to maneuver rhetorically in the public sphere and amid its great themes of war, peace, and right action. For Lydgate this work does not end with the secular powers, but perseveres in the service of doctrine. [JF. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 35.1.]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Influence and Later Allusion
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata