Unjustified margins: Vernacular innovations and Latin tradition in Gower's "Confessio amantis"

Patricia Ann Batchelor, Marquette University


John Gower, writing in England during the fourteenth century, composed poetry in Latin, French, and English. His major Middle English work, the Confessio amantis, is distinctive for including Latin verses and a prose commentary. In many of the extant manuscripts of this work, both Latin texts are written as part of the work; in some manuscripts and in G. C. Macaulay's nineteenth-century edition, the commentary appears as a marginal gloss. Given the dynamic interaction of gloss and text in medieval literary practice and the central role of manuscript marginalia in modern understandings of medieval literary theory, John Gower's Confessio deserves scholarly attention as an integrated bilingual whole. The appearance of the Latin apparatus in most manuscripts suggests that these texts contribute to the sentence of the work. Moreover, the relationship of the glosses to the scholastic commentary tradition and their contribution to Gower's creation of auctoritas for this vernacular work demonstrate his keen sensitivity to relationships among form, content and tradition in literature. This study investigates Gower's sophisticated exploitation and manipulation of the literary and scholastic traditions available to him. Exploring in detail the effect of the juxtaposition of Latin and vernacular texts, it argues for a re-reading of Gower's work in which the interdependence of the texts is allowed to figure in the work's analysis. Such a reading reveals the importance of the concept of auctoritas in medieval literary theory. It also shows the extent of Gower's innovative questioning of that concept. Read as a work of which its Latin apparatus is an intrinsic part, the Confessio amantis represents a significant modification of literary conventions both Latin and vernacular--a text that situates itself within a tradition even as it inscribes new boundaries for it.

Recommended Citation

Batchelor, Patricia Ann, "Unjustified margins: Vernacular innovations and Latin tradition in Gower's "Confessio amantis"" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9717056.