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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24366

Title: Ethics, Rhetorical Accommodation, and Vernacularity in Gower's Confessio Amantis
Authors: McCabe, Timothy Matthew Neil
Advisor: Akbari, Suzanne Conklin
Department: Medieval Studies
Keywords: Gower, John
Vernacular theology
Confessio Amantis
Issue Date: 21-Apr-2010
Abstract: Many critics have seen Confessio Amantis as a work of reformist rhetoric that, drawing deeply on medieval Aristotelian conflations of ethics and politics, urges readers toward personal moral reform as the crucial means by which to heal the body politic. In such a view, the moral and public interests on full display in Mirour de l’Omme, Vox Clamantis, and elsewhere remain central to Gower’s purpose in Confessio. However, while Mirour and Vox also foreground religious concerns, Confessio is often seen as “secular” in a modern sense. I argue in this dissertation that Confessio indeed bears strong affinities to Gower’s other religious-ethical-political works, and that the main differences that set it apart from them must be understood in connection with Gower’s decision to write this work “in oure Englissh.” Notwithstanding its debt to aristocratic culture, Confessio imagines a broader and more popular audience than do Vox and Mirour. Gower’s novel language choice has major implications especially for Confessio’s uncharacteristically delicate handling of religion. Chapter 1 examines Confessio’s Ovidian debt and suggests that Confessio’s many invocations of Metamorphoses, given that poem’s fourteenth-century reception, align Confessio with Ovidian universal satire in a way that suggests totalizing religious-ethical-political synthesis. However, Confessio departs from the mainstream of fourteenth-century commentated Ovids by stripping Metamorphoses of its clergial patina and, crucially, adopting a markedly lay stance. Investigating Gower’s attitude to English vernacularity, chapter 2 notes Confessio’s association of translation with decay and demonstrates that scientific and theological passages in Gower’s English works adopt a lower register than analogous passages in his Latin works. Chapter 3 investigates the probable causes of these downward modulations, comparing Gower’s sense of linguistic decorum to those discernible in contemporary English vernacular theology. Chapters 4 and 5—on metamorphosis and art, respectively—argue that Gower finds in Ovidian writing rich resources particularly adaptable to the most delicate of Gower’s rhetorical tasks in Confessio: to address, as layman, a lay audience on matters that are unavoidably, and indeed largely, religious. The dissertation concludes by suggesting that Gower’s voice of lay religious critique plays an important role in the histories of laicization and secularization.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24366
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Centre for Medieval Studies - Doctoral theses

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