"Noght withoute Peine": Chastity, Complaint, and Lucrece's "Vox Clamantis."

Irvin, Matthew.

"Noght withoute Peine": Chastity, Complaint, and Lucrece's "Vox Clamantis."

Irvin, Matthew. "'Noght withoute Peine': Chastity, Complaint, and Lucrece's Vox Clamantis." In Russell A. Peck and R. F. Yeager, eds. John Gower: Others and the Self. Publications of the John Gower Society XI (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 50-72.

How to explain the peculiar juxtaposition of pity and chastity among the virtues enjoined upon the king in Book VII of the CA? As Irvin argues, citing the political theory of Foucault and Agamben, " . . . pity is a form of 'power over life' that sovereignty claims . . . " (51). It descends from the classical virtue of "clemency" defined by Seneca as a function of superior power, be it of emperor or paterfamilias (53-56), combined with the Christian virtue of affective pity modeled after God's salvific love (56-58). In classical and Christian theory, failure of clemency (or pity) leads to lechery, as witnessed by the sexual sadism and uncontrolled womanizing of Nero (59-60). True power over life requires chastity, "a power available only to men" (63, discussing CA VII.4255-56). Like pity, chastity serves the agenda of biopower as monopolized by the male; the man who gives in to desire, as did the rapist Arruns, becomes a mere feminized "caitif" in the service of Venus (66). The suffering of Mary at her son's passion was expressed in the planctus, a "script" for the feeling of pity, but in Gower's response to the planctus, he always speaks in his own masculine voice (68-69, discussing MO 28909-220). Although he tells the story of Lucrece in his section on chastity, Gower's Lucrece is scarcely granted a voice, only a wordless, almost subhuman outpouring of tears. Even her last words are barely uttered, "noght withoute peine," and recorded only in paraphrase (71-72). "Her chastity is not a virtue, but a spontaneous natural event subject to the male gaze, compassion, and power over life: she is an object of male power over the household" (71). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l'Omme (Speculum Meditantis)