Academic journal article Medium Aevum

John Gower and the Limits of the Law

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

John Gower and the Limits of the Law

Article excerpt

Conrad van Dijk, John Gower and the Limits of the Law, Publications of the John Gower Society 8 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2013). viii + 221 pp. ISBN 9781-84384-350-4. £60.00.

As Conrad van Dijk notes, plenty of Gower criticism has been content to remark that the poet might have been trained in the law without building much interpretative work around this possibility. In John Gower and the Limits of the Law, van Dijk eschews thankless speculation about whether or not Gower practised law and concentrates on the complexities of legal discourse in his poetry, especially Confessio Amantis. Van Dijk has a granular knowledge of medieval legal theory and institutions, so he is well placed to assess the extent to which Gower's writing is informed by legal ideas and to unearth the legal resonances of phrases that other readers might read more innocendy, such as 'malice' and 'hold', as well as the more obviously technical language of escheat, imperium, and equity.

This book explores several broad legal approaches to Gower's poetry. The most original of these is the relationship between the literary exemplum and the legal case. Tying the two forms together through literary history and narrative theory, van Dijk argues that one of the most pervasive legalistic qualities of the Confessio is formal. Connoisseurs of disputation at the Inns of Court would have found themselves at home judging the more or less open 'hard cases' that Genius supplies in the exempla of the Confessio. The middle chapters discuss sovereignty, first as part of 'international law' and then in terms of the law's hold over kings. The final chapter, on dispute resolution, focuses on the Confessio's tale of Orestes in the context of late medieval culture of legal and extra-legal justice. This chapter includes a neat coda on 'the rigor of the law' and the 'vengeance of the mob' - Gower, it seems, 'can have his cake and eat it too' - in Crónica tripertita (p. …

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