Betwene Ernest and Game: The Literary Artistry of the Confessio Amantis

Betwene Ernest and Game: The Literary Artistry of the Confessio Amantis

Betwene Ernest and Game: The Literary Artistry of the Confessio Amantis

Betwene Ernest and Game: The Literary Artistry of the Confessio Amantis

Synopsis

This study of the Confessio Amantis by the fourteenth-century poet John Gower uses linguistic and structuralist techniques to assess aspects of the literary artistry of a great but neglected poem. It posits that Dante's Vita Nuova is an analogue that helps us understand the structure of the Confessio and that the Confessio is carefully ordered to promote love, both amor and caritas. The book discusses puns and rimes equivoques as aspects of Gower's literary artistry and residual elements of oral tradition in the Tale of Appolinus of Tyre. It concludes with a reconsideration of the relationship of the narrative materials shared by Gower and his contemporary Chaucer with a view to correcting biases concerning the relative merits of the two poets.

Excerpt

Gower's puns in the Confessio Amantis allude metonymically to key ideas and themes and are a serious part of his poetic technique. His technique is not exclusively metonymic because of the nature of his chosen form, octosyllabic couplets. Jakobson has argued that "that metrical parallelism of lines or the phonic equivalence of rhyming words" means that poetry is by nature metaphoric and that "there exist . . . grammatical and anti- grammatical but never agrammatical rhymes" (127). Much of the Confessio exhibits metrical parallelism and the phonic equivalence of rhymes, and it therefore partakes of the metaphoric structure of language and poetry. Nevertheless, not all rhymes in medieval poetry show semantic similarity in the same way that rhymes do in more modern poetry. Instead, some show contiguity because they derive from an oral-formulaic structure in which the rhymes must be "systematic" (see Quinn-Hall, 111) [italics deleted] and predictable rather than merely "conventional" (see Quinn-Hall, 111) [italics deleted]. The techniques of oral-formulaic poetry tend to be metonymic rather than metaphoric.

When one studies the works of fourteenth-century poets who, in contrast to the jongleurs, composed in writing rather than improvising orally, one finds it difficult to determine whether particular rhymes are conventional and therefore metonymic or chosen for rhetorical effect and therefore metaphoric. Walter S. Phelan observes that the frequency of "late" and "algate" in the Confessio is caused by "their use as a rhyming pair" (478), an example of "words whose frequency seems to be due to a readiness for rhyming" (466) and which are therefore conventional rhymes. In contrast, William A. Quinn and Audley S. Hall provide extensive tables of the "systematic and common" (102) [italics Quinn-Hall's] end-rhymes of King Horn, including "rewe"/"trewe" (see 103) and "rewe"/"trewe" (see 144 and 146). These tables show that such rhymes are not conventional but assist the jongleur in performance because of metonymic association. Myra Stokes has argued that Chaucer's frequent use of rhyming words (including "rewe"/"trewe" and "routhe"/"trouthe") is such that "these rhyming 'formulas' . . . play an important part in reflecting the meaning of the poem as it evolves" (Recurring Rhymes 287) and highlighting themes.

Although a statistical analysis of the rhymes of the Confessio is not the purpose of this study, I should like to point out that Gower, like Chaucer, sometimes uses rhymes used formulaically by earlier oral poets, but he uses them with rhetorical purpose. Book One, for example, is concerned with truth in love, and Gower exploits the imagery of the . . .

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