“A Priestly Farewell": Gower’s Tomb and Religious Change in "Pericles.”

Walsh, Brian.

“A Priestly Farewell": Gower’s Tomb and Religious Change in "Pericles.”

Religion & Literature 45, no. 3 (2013): 81-113.

Walsh casts his essay as a contribution to ongoing questions about sustained or residual Catholic attitudes and practices in post-Reformation England, arguing that the characterization of Gower in William Shakespeare and George Wilkins’s "Pericles" contributes to the play’s “Catholic-Protestant dialectic” (82), more specifically, its “syncretistic tendency” in depicting “old and new forms of worship” cast as, respectively, “sacramental” and “commemorative” mourning rituals (91-92). The “legacy” of Gower, Walsh argues, “encoded [early modern] England’s medieval religious past,” and the character Gower, presented as a revenant in the play, is an “avatar of the medieval” (93) that enabled “the fantasy” that Gower himself has left his tomb “and come down the street to the Globe,” standing forth as “a figure for ongoing, even mobile appropriations of the religious past” (101). Walsh posits that the playwrights and their audience plausibly, even probably, were familiar with Gower’s tomb, and he suggests the tomb should be considered a source for the play’s dialectic of religious outlooks. He describes the state and status of the tomb in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, considers the discussions of it in Thomas Berthelette’s edition of CA (a clear source of "Pericles") and in John Stow’s "Survey of London," and emphasizes the fact that the tomb survived the sixteenth-century destruction of the chapel of St. John the Baptist’s chapel that originally surrounded it. Constructed as a chantry for intercessory prayer, the tomb was never “wholly disenchanted” (100), Walsh tells us, and, in the play, the effigy was “animated” by a “living, breathing actor” (96), thereby effecting a bridge between past and present that is foregrounded by archaic speech, various details of Gower’s choric commentary, and (one might add) costuming. Among various observations that Walsh makes about Gower’s early modern reception is the detail that Gower appears as an “advertising hook” on the title page of George Wilkins’s 1608 “novelization” of "Pericles" ("The Painfull Aduentures of Pericles . . ."), even though Gower never appears in this prose version, indicating that “Wilkins or his printer evidently expected possible customers to see Gower as inseparable from the story” (93). The title-page image, however, looks nothing like the tomb effigy. On the other hand, in supporting his claims about early modern familiarity with Gower’s tomb, Walsh offers “a tantalizing bit of circumstantial evidence” (104) that Shakespeare knew the interior of St. Saviour’s--an account of the burial of Edmund Shakespeare in 1607. Earlier in his essay, Walsh suggests in passing that Gower’s tomb may also have influenced Paulina’s tomb in Shakespeare’s "The Winter’s Tale." [MA]


Gower Subjects
Influence and Later Allusion
Confessio Amantis
Biography of Gower