Reading Faces in Gower and Chaucer.

Taylor, Karla.

Reading Faces in Gower and Chaucer.

Taylor, Karla. "Reading Faces in Gower and Chaucer." 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. 73-90.

At CA VII.3545-47, "Genius voices the astonishing advice that the king should shape his face so as to control what it expresses to others. 'A king schal make good visage / That no man knowe of his corage / Bot al honour and worthinesse" (73), thus seeming to condone a form of deception as a strategy for rule. However, this counsel is not unexpected, as the medieval "science" of physiognomy was a staple of advice to princes and is ubiquitous to a major source for CA Book VII, the "Secreta [sic] Secretorum" (74-76). In a world much declined from the Golden Age, a king must control his own "visage" and also read faces if he seeks to preserve his rule. Both Chaucer and Gower offer numerous examples of the "good visage"--in all its moral ambiguity--as a strategy for survival in royalty and other walks of life (78-82). As a poet who writes for kings, Gower resolves the tension by trusting the king to keep his face a plain reflection of his "corage" (82). In Taylor's argument, Gower deleted the tribute to Chaucer from the Henrician version of the CA as a rebuke to his friend for failure to comment on the political crises of 1386 and 1388 (83). Chaucer responded by injecting the Gowerian theme of "corage" versus "visage" into his Clerk's reworking of Petrarch's translation of the "Tale of Griselda," with Walter the archetypal tyrant who conceals his uncontrolled desires behind a "good visage" (88). For Chaucer, "The result of Genius' Machiavellian advice . . . is not a disciplined, ethical ruler, but a Walter," and Gower is following the example of Petrarch by trimming his ethical standards to write for tyrants (90). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations