Chaucer, Gower and the Anxiety of Obsolescence.

Munro, Lucy.

Chaucer, Gower and the Anxiety of Obsolescence.

Lucy Munro, Archaic Style in English Literature, 1590-1674 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 69-104. ISBN 978-1-107-04279-7

As part of her broader, book-length study of archaism as a “barometer” of early modern English literary and national self-awareness, Munro examines representations of Chaucer, Gower, and their works in Renaissance poetry and drama. Chaucer receives much the lion’s share of the attention here, with Munro remarking at one point on the “downward trajectory of Gower’s reputation in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” (91). Nevertheless, according to Munro, the “embodiment” of Gower in Shakespeare and Wilkins’ "Pericles" was “one of the period’s most sustained attempts to assert the value of the archaic style” (92), with the “imaginative antiquarianism” of the play challenging the “assumptions about archaism’s obsolescence that are anxiously negotiated” in other works, particularly Book 4 of Spenser’s "Faerie Queene," where Chaucer’s "Squire’s Tale" figures so largely, and "The Return from Parnassus," a Cambridge University play that, more directly than Spenser, confronts the “question of Chaucer’s scurrility” (86). In its “fragments of a recreated Gowerian English,” "Pericles" reanimates Middle English for its original audience, reinforced, Munro argues, by the medieval costuming of Gower as narrator and chorus. Moreover, the meter and style of Gower’s choric comments on the dumb-shows in the play successfully emphasize “visual story-telling” and contribute to its “performative antiquarianism” that “foreground[s] the act of the recuperation of the past” (95). William Cartwright’s play "The Ordinary" also “reanimates” Middle English (through the character of Robert Moth, the antiquarian) and thereby recuperates the past, but it does so in a more sardonic, less direct way than Shakespeare and Wilkins do with their characterization of Gower. [MA].


Gower Subjects
Influence and Later Allusion