Power and the Peasants' Revolt.

Author/Editor
Cornelius, Ian.

Title
Power and the Peasants' Revolt.

Published
Cornelius, Ian, "Power and the Peasants' Revolt." Representations, 131 (2015): 22-51.

Review
Cornelius offers a crisp and cogent review of scholarship on Gower's "Visio Anglie" and advances a compelling argument about its ideological significance. He identifies three major strands of scholarly activity on the poem that Gower wrote about the Rising of 1381 and inserted as the first book of the "Vox Clamantis." One strand has focused on the "ideological work" that the poem performs in its account of the insurgency; another has advanced and refined our understanding of Gower's use of his biblical and classical sources; and a third has exploration of the literary indecorum of Gower's "vertiginous dream vision": its mishmash of sources and allusion, including vernacular elements; and its "surrealistic shifts in character, setting, and generic mode" (23-4). Cornelius builds on all three strands of scholarship and seeks to integrate them in ideological framework. It suggests, in relation to the third strand, not only how the "aggressively dehumanizing" presentation of the rebels served to delegitimise their grievances and demands but also how the "transgressions of literary decorum" express, "at the level of prosody, the offense committed by English labourers who forced their way into the homes and into the thoughts of their social superiors in June of 1381" (24). In relation to the second strand, he shows how "the storehouse of Latin poetry . . . figures in Gower's poem as the mental equipment necessary for a proper understanding of contemporary events" (24), privileging again the educated elite. It also "delivers a deeper mythography of power," in which the insurrection and its defeat are given added cultural resonance and set in a larger providential history (29). Drawing the threads together, Cornelius incorporates Andrew Galloway's insight that, in the last analysis, the poem is not about the rebels and their outrages but about "the moral condition of the dreamer-speaker" (27). The study ends by offering a subtler sense of the poem's ideological work. The poem not only delegitimises the political agency of the serfs and the lower orders generally but also excludes them, as lacking reason, from the moral community. The poem likewise seeks to reduce the force of the insurrection: from a revolt of the commons, to animal hordes, to tempest and storm, the rising is "shrunk into a matter of the governing class's conscience." For Gower, "it follows that the governing classes must be educated, encouraged, and supported, and even prodded toward correct living" (44). [MJB. Copyright. Joh Gower Society. eJGN 37.1].

Date
2015

Gower Subjects
Vox Clamantis
Minor Latin Poetry