Gower Bibliography

The Making of a Social Ethic in Late-Medieval England: From Gratitudo to 'Kyndenesse'

Galloway, Andrew. "The Making of a Social Ethic in Late-Medieval England: From Gratitudo to 'Kyndenesse'." Journal of the History of Ideas 55 (1994), pp. 365-83.


Galloway is interested in the importance of gratitude to late medieval notions of religious faith and particularly of social relations. For contrast, he begins with the early medieval concept of gift-giving as a way for a ruler to earn both loyalty and praise. With the thirteenth century, he detects a shift from the benefit to the giver to the obligation of gratitudo, itself a scholastic coinage which for Aquinas embraces "religious reverence, familial and social loyalty, and more casual obligations" in one continuum (p. 369). Aquinas' "careful ranking of relationships of servility and lordship" implies a "kind of idealization of the system of feudalism." Vincent of Beauvais defines a duty to repay benefits with interest, "a direct use of the ethic in support of a profit economy," and gives a fuller description of the evils of ingratitude. The discussion of Gratitude is especially prominent in 14th-century England. In his Summa praedicantium, Bromyard discusses Ingratitude as a subspecies of Avarice, and describes it as a violation of the natural order. The latter notion finds special resonance in ME, in which both "kynde" and "unkynde" carry a double meaning linking the natural with the moral. "By blending nature with reciprocation, Middle English 'kyndenesse' shifts religious and social bonds away from hierarchy and towards affinity, and the exploitation of these lexical possibilities may easily be aligned with the many distinctive late medieval forms of community or corporate identity in which reciprocation and close affinity or ideas of such affinity cohere" (p. 374). Ricardian writers in particular pass beyond aristocratic emphasis on real kinship and religious writers' emphasis on humans' debt to God to a wider concept of reciprocal social duties. Gower, in MO, treats Ingratitude in the tradition of Bromyard. "Unlike Bromyard, however, Gower is led to a close consideration of the interaction of different social groups or levels rather than any religious obligation" (p. 376). Galloway also notes that Gower's conclusion to the discussion of Ingratitude in MO (6673-85) seems to be "informed by the double meaning of Middle English 'unkynde,' even though the pun cannot directly emerge in the French" (p. 377). In CA, however, "kyndeness" does not provide "a simple key to social unity and morality" (p. 377). The tale of "Adrian and Bardus" "emphasizes the inevitability, the 'naturalness,' of social differences rather than any naturalness in the workings of gratitude. . . . The principal of gratitude finally invoked is the only hope for harmony between the disparate social realms of country, city, and court that Gower contemplates, but this principle is imposed by imperial fiat" (p. 378). Langland makes "perhaps the most ambitious effort to stretch this idea to contain a vast and diverse English community" (p. 379). Galloway emphasizes the neglected implications of Gratitude in Langland's use of "Kynde," and concludes that "in his willingness to pursue the 'natural' or 'given' bases of communities of exchange broadly considered, [Langland] manages to present in 'kyndenesse' a capacious notion of cultural identity that depends neither on authoritarianism (like that of Gower's Emperor) nor even on the unity of the institutional church" (p. 381). Galloway's general conclusion notes the "varying concepts of community" implicit in the different writers' discussions of Gratitude. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 15.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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