University of Tasmania
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Gower's `Middel Weie' : the poetic breadth of the Confessio amantis

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posted on 2023-05-27, 18:11 authored by O'Neill, TC
The aim of this study is to demonstrate that John Gower's Confessio Amantis is a work of great philosophical and poetic sophistication which is worthy of greater critical attention and esteem than it has so far received. It attempts to do this in a number of ways: firstly, it outlines some of the reasons that Gower's poem has been somewhat neglected; secondly, it looks at Gower within his literary context; thirdly, it examines the poem in the context of the poet's social, religious and political milieaux. By examining the poem from these perspectives, it is hoped that some critically useful indications of the intellectual breadth of Gower's poem will have been delineated. Chapter One: Place and Time Other critics have traced the development of Gower's adverse critical reputation, but it is Gower's proximity (poetically, linguistically and socially) to his more famous contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer, which has contributed most to Gower's denigration. While his works have been more closely scrutinised in recent decades, a full appreciation of Gower's work can be achieved only by examining Gower in his own right. An analysis of the Confessio in relation to Gower's most probable intended audiences indicates a poet striving to produce a work to which a wide range of people could respond to and make use of on a number of levels. Similarly, Gower's view of himself as an author, as indicated by the Prologue of the poem, is further evidence of the breadth and seriousness of his endeavour. Chapter Two: Modes and Styles The ways in which Gower chose to frame and to present his ideas are further indications of the poem's sophistication. His use of confession, an analytical dialogue between two people with carefully defined roles, was an innovation which presented many rich poetic and philosophical possibilities. An examination of the role of the sacrament of confession in late fourteenth-century society shows that Gower had chosen a mode of discourse which was not only highly familiar to his audience but which was the most powerful tool for psychological analysis available at that time. Gower makes rich use of that tool to examine his major character, Amans, and, through this 'Everyman' figure, to examine humanity in general. As a 'lover's confession' the Confessio Amantis is an examination of human sexuality on one important level, but Gower simultaneously examines 'love' in its broader, social aspects and so explores aspects of human nature on a macrocosmic level also. Chapter Three: Voices and Characters The focus of this analysis is the central figure, Amans. The way in which Gower presents this figure is vital to an understanding of the breadth of Gower's achievement in this poem. Amans is an Everyman figure both as an archetypal lover and as an archetypal human being. Iconographical and textual evidence is surveyed to examine the presentation of this vital figure, as are relevant calendrical schemes and the topos of the Twelve Ages of Man. The breadth of possible interpretation built into the figure of Amans is another indication of the breadth of meaning in the poem. The relationships between Amans and the other major poetic figures in the work, Genius, Venus and Nature, show that Gower aimed to present a carefully considered, well constructed and intellectually challenging vision of love and its roles in the cosmos. Chapter Four:- Findings and Outcomes The confessional dialogue and its conclusion which make up the bulk of the poem are devoted to these microcosmic and macrocosmic concerns. They are framed and complemented by the poem's prologue and epilogue, which reinforce the poem's social and political concerns. Gower was highly concerned with the politics of his time, and wrote the poem to inform those politics by showing a path towards a 'common good'. By examining the political environment in which the Confessio was written, we can get some idea of what motivated him to write this poem and why he conceived of it as he did. The total structure of the poem makes it clear that he wished it to be both a poem which could be enjoyed and a proposal of a 'middle way' which could be used, by people of his own time and in times to come. He attempted to write a poem for everybody. The conclusion of the study serves to indicate further areas of study which this kind of analysis of Gower's poem could make possible.


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Copyright 1992 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Includes bibliographical references (leaves 102-109). Thesis (M.A.)--University of Tasmania, 1992

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