Confessio Amantis, Volume 3: Introduction


1 Private correspondence, 18 June 2004.

2 Pearsall, Gower and Lydgate, p. 17, as cited in the second volume of this edition of Gower's Confessio Amantis (hereafter CA), p. 31.

3 One of the best discussions of Amans as a literary creation is Burrow's insightful analysis of Amans in terms of the French Dits amoreux tradition ("The Portrayal of Amans," pp. 6-24). See also Cowling, "Gower's Ironic Self-Portrait."

4 I have borrowed this useful term from Greimas who, in his Sémantique structurale (pp. 172-91), attempts to get at the voicing of functions within a narrative or argument by means of reformulation of units of meaning that he thinks of (casts) in terms of dramatis personae that act within a morphological matrix. Working from folklorist Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale, Greimas defines the character of an idea through the function of its actants. Actants are akin to motifs, but are more precisely focused on the morphology of voicing.

5 The story of Sin in Mirour de L'Omme goes like this: The Devil gives birth to Sin (lines 205 ff.), then, enamored of her, enjoys pleasant entertainment whereby she gives birth to a son, Death. Her son incestuously copulates with her, and she gives birth to the Seven Deadly Sins (241 ff.). These seven daughters are then espoused by the Devil (who gives Hell as the dowry) to World (757 ff.). They approach World in a grand processional, with each Sin riding on one animal while holding another: Pride, on a lion, carries an eagle; Envy, on a dog, carries a sparrowhawk; Anger, on a boar, bears a cock on her fist; Sloth, on an ass, holds an owl; Avarice, on a badger, takes a goshawk on one fist and a merlin on the other; Gluttony, with kite on hand, rides a wolf, followed by Drunkenness whose rein she holds; and Lechery, on a goat, carries a tethered dove. Once married to World, each Sin gives birth to five offspring: Pride, to Hypocrisy, Vainglory, Arrogance, Boasting, and Disobedience (949-2616); Envy, to Detraction, Sorrow-at-other's-Joy, Joy-for-other's-Grief, Supplanting, and False-semblance (2617-3852); Anger, to Ill-Temper, Contention, Hatred, Strife, and Homicide (3853-5124); Sloth, to Somnolence, Laziness, Slackness, Idleness, and Negligence (5125-6180); Avarice, to Covetousness, Rapine, Usury, Simony, and Stinginess (6181-7704); Gluttony, to Voracity, Delicacy, Drunkenness, Superfluity, and Prodigality (7705-8616); and Lechery, to Fornication, Rape, Adultery, Incest, and Wantonness (8617-9720). But we are not left hopeless before such an onslaught, for, meanwhile, Reason weds the Seven Virtues (Humility, Charity, Patience, Prowess, Generosity, Measure, and Chastity), each of whom mothers five helpful children, enabling life in the world to seem less desperate.

6 We should acknowledge, however, that all the actants of the change are anchored in the Prologue, particularly in the discussion of the three estates and Nebuchadnezzar's dream of history. Gower the historian is present in the poem long before Gower the dramatist makes his presence known.

7 Book 5 is 7844 lines long; Book 7 is next with 5438; then Book 4, with 3712. Book 6 is the shortest, with 2440 (not counting the Prologue, with 1088 lines, as a book).

8 On the disruptive in-roads of capitalism as it displaces feudal ideology whereby money, rather than feudal love and loyalty, becomes the new index of social achievement, see Little, "Pride Goes before Avarice." Where Pride had always ranked first of the sins ever since the fall of Lucifer, now, in the fourteenth century, Avarice seems the subtler, more pervasive corruption, the main contender for the number-one ranking among the sins. And, though prominent like newfangledness among all estates, it is especially prominent among churchmen who should be the most wise, self-sacrificing guides to society, but now seem the most debased. Note, for instance, Chaucer's corrupt churchmen like the Friar, Summoner, Pardoner, and Monk, or the prominence of Lady Meed and her magnetism in the Visio section of the B-Text of Piers Plowman. See Yunck, The Lineage of Lady Meed; Baldwin, "The Medieval Merchant"; and Dean, Six Ecclesiastical Satires.

9 According to the OED, misease remains in modern usage into the twentieth century as a term for "distress, affliction; trouble, misery; extreme suffering or discomfort," as well as "uneasiness or disquiet"; with earlier connotations of "need, want, and poverty." It serves Gower well as a psychological term for the fretted anxieties of the soul upon which the chances of the world so persistently play.

10 See Simpson, Sciences and the Self, especially his introduction (pp. 1-21) with its discussion of "enformacioun" and "informatio" not as "inert bodies of knowledge," but rather as "the action of transmitting and receiving knowledge" (p. 2), whereby forms are brought into the mind for effect (p. 8). Simpson sees this instructional process as being for Gower essentially Platonic, akin to the discussion of form and its inception in Alan of Lille's Anticlaudianus, a process shaped by Aristotelian lore, especially in Book 7 of the Confessio.

11 Gower, Mirour de L'Omme (hereafter MO), pp. 253-54. The whole of Gower's lengthy ethical history on the condition of Holy Church (MO 18421-21780) focuses on Avarice that runs throughout the papacy and the whole Court of Rome, infecting cardinals, bishops, archdeacons, deans, priests, annuellers, friars, and students -- in short, the whole of the establishment. It must have seemed to Gower that the venality of the Church in the early 1370s had become progressively worse in the later 1380s, despite the efforts towards church reform by the radical Wycliffites, of whom he strongly disapproved.

12 Compare Gower's use of the same example in CA 7.3163 ff., where Codrus, albeit a pagan king, is his principal exemplum for the fourth point of policy, Pity.

13 Avarice's court might well be seen as a subversion of the wastrel court surrounding young Richard II. I have noted elsewhere that Amans in his youth-oriented court bears some likeness to young Richard, who is said to have invited the older poet to his barge to talk about poetry ("Politics and Psychology of Governance," pp. 229-30). It is amusing to imagine what Richard, age 18 or so when the event would have happened, might have looked like in his courtly finery. Or, if we prefer to think of Amans, even at the beginning, as an old man, a "faitour" disguising himself as y