Gower's Vulgar Tongue: Ovid, Lay Religion, and English Poetry in the Confessio Amantis

November 2011
266 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Publications of the John Gower Society
ISBN: 9781843842835
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
BISAC LIT011000, LIT004120, LIT014000

Gower's Vulgar Tongue: Ovid, Lay Religion, and English Poetry in the Confessio Amantis

T. Matthew N. McCabe

Why did Gower choose to write his most famous poem in English? New insights into his purpose and the context and tradition of the poem are presented here.
After establishing his reputation as a literary author by means of his French and Latin verse, Gower came to recognize the possibilities which English held for serious poetry only in the 1380s. This book gives sustained attention to the implications of this language choice for the form, readership, religious position, and lay authority of his best-known work, the Confessio Amantis.The author argues that in all of his moral-political-theological writings, Gower's stance as a satirist and publicist is more markedly lay, and more rhetorically momentous for reasons associated with this lay status, than is generally thought. But during the 1380s, the conditions for writing lay public poetry in English made the Confessio a truly remarkable feat, for Gower and for English poetry. Notwithstanding the poem's formal debt to aristocratic literature and the evident elitism of its earliest known readership, the Confessio imagines a broader and more popular audience than do the Vox and the Mirour, modulating its author's vision into a comparatively muted register by appropriating the oblique strategies of Ovidian myth, Ovidian art of love, affective devotional writing, and romance. The resulting "public poetry" is at once subtly accommodated to the conditions for writing in English and profoundly significant for the development of the English poetic tradition.

T. Matthew N. McCabe is Assistant Professor of English at Ambrose University College (Calgary).

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Vernacularity and Public Poetry
Gower's Ovidian Voice in English
English Writing and Lay Theology
At the Limits of Clerical Discourse: Gower and "lewed clergie"
Kinde Grace: Metamorphosis in Other Words
Ethics, Art, and Grace
Conclusion: Gower and Public Poetry



[An] extremely thoughtful study [and] a valuable contribution to Gower scholarship. MEDIUM AEVUM

This immensely provocative study is filled with striking connections between approaches to the poem that are rarely brought together, illuminating studies of key words [...], and compelling readings of individual tales. [...] A splendid example of the vigour of new work on Gower. REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES

This is a well-written, scholarly book and a significant contribution to Gower studies. [...] Recommended. CHOICE

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