Towards a Material Allegory: Allegory and Urban Space in Hoccleve, Langland, and Gower.

Knapp, Ethan.

Towards a Material Allegory: Allegory and Urban Space in Hoccleve, Langland, and Gower.

Knapp, Ethan. "Towards a Material Allegory: Allegory and Urban Space in Hoccleve, Langland, and Gower." Exemplaria 27 (2015): 93-109.

Knapp's essay is preceded by his own summary, as follows: "This essay seeks to revise our sense of late medieval allegory by examining the representation of crowds and urban space in Hoccleve, Langland, and Gower. I begin by looking at Walter Benjamin's treatment of the flâneur, with a specific eye towards his sense that allegory is born in the hermeneutical challenge of making meaning out of the unknown faces in a city crowd. I then turn to readings of Hoccleve's 'La Male Regle,' Langland's "Piers Plowman," and the initial Visio in Gower's VC to establish both the surprising frequency with which late medieval English allegory turned to depictions of crowds as well as the particular narrative structures generated out of the attempts to represent urban space in these three poets." Knapp offers close readings of Hoccleve (concentrating on his travels through the London streets), Langland (concentrating on his vividly "meaningful crowds," in Benjaminian fashion), and Gower (concentrating on the 1381 rebels' invasion of "New Troy"--a form of "not-London"). Gower's narratives, Knapp finds, "are often organized around an oscillation from urban spaces to extra-urban wilderness and back again" (102). An example is the nautical wanderings of Apollonius in CA Book VIII. But "perhaps the most striking version of this narrative structure occurs in the dream visio that supplies a prologue to Gower's Vox Clamantis" (102). Knapp traces the narrator's flight from the crowd of rebels-turned-animals from city to woods, finding in it three levels of allegorical import--"at least three comments on the significance of 1381 in terms of the city and the crowd. First, the crowd's pursuit suggests that with the boundaries of the city and country loosened by rebellion, the urban mob is free both to enter the city and also to disrupt the Horatian refuge of the countryside. Second, the juridical force of the allegory suggests the downfall of yet another stabilizing urban institution as the court of law…has been swallowed up by sheer rumor. And, lastly, the fast pursuit of these tongues seems a wholly malevolent version of Langland's constant motion; here, the motion of the crowd must stand for…fear of the rapidity with which both the word and fact of rebellion spread from region to region" (105). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 36.1]


Gower Subjects
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis