Braying Peasants and the Poet as Prophet: Gower and the People in the "Vox Clamantis."

Author/Editor
Novak, Sarah.

Title
Braying Peasants and the Poet as Prophet: Gower and the People in the "Vox Clamantis."

Published
Novak, Sarah. "Braying Peasants and the Poet as Prophet: Gower and the People in the Vox Clamantis." Études Anglaises 66 (2013): 311-22. ISSN 0014-195X. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 264 (Detroit: Gale, 2017), pp. 279-85. ISBN 9781410332592.

Review
Novak takes as her starting point what has "often been remarked, that typically for the Ricardian period in which he lived, John Gower's poetic style is essentially public, in the sense that it is written on behalf of what he calls the people, for their moral edification, their 'common profit,' and usually in the form of direct address to the nation as a whole or class by class" (311). Examples are drawn from the MO and the VC Books II-VII, to illustrate Gower's early employment of "vox populi, vox dei" is in a sense unqualified--but this, Novak argues, shifts dramatically with the Revolt of 1381, as evidenced by his presentation of the peasants turned into brutes, incapable of human language. This leads her to conclude that: "When Gower speaks with the voice of the people, he means people like himself: educated, owning land, namely the rising middle estates, who are worthy of counseling and passing judgment on the upper end of the hierarchy. He does not credit serfs and artisans with speaking in God's own voice, and there is no reason to believe that anyone in his time understood the proverb to include them" (322). For Novak, this exclusion of the lowest classes extends to Gower's denial to them of human speech: "Gower believes in the power of language to repair the ills of society, to compose peace. However, just as God denies wealth and freedom to the peasant class for the common good--because someone must work the land--Gower deprives them of language, which would prove too dangerous in their mouths" (322). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 37.2.]

Date
2013

Gower Subjects
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)
Vox Clamantis
Language and Word Studies