Gower's Jews.

Yeager, R. F.

Gower's Jews.

Yeager, R.F. "Gower's Jews." 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. 185-203.

Gower was not preoccupied with the Jews. In all his vast trilingual corpus, fewer than 300 lines refer to Jewish people per se, "of which 122 make up the 'Tale of the Jew and the Pagan'," the primary focus of Yeager's analysis (184, referring to CA VII.3207*-3329*). The tale is anti-Semitic by any standard. Although unschooled by true religion, the pagan follows the law of nature by helping his fellow human, while the Jew observes Jewish law by helping only himself and his fellow Jew. The story presents an analogue to the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan (a religious outcast, a sort of pagan) shows himself superior in compassion to the (obviously Jewish) priest and Levite (188-90). In both stories, however, it is only the wrongful exercise of free will "[that] makes a Jew, not ethnicity or genealogy" (190). Gower's work is notably devoid of the usual medieval tropes on Jewish people as condemned by mere fact of birth to "societal detrimentality, physical deformity, monstrosity or bodily filth" (191). Intriguingly, the story appears only in a group of manuscripts evidently designed for Henry IV (193-94). According to St. Augustine, the Jewish people were kept alive for a reason, and a few would be converted, so all must be treated fairly (195-96). The "Jew and the Pagan" appears in a discussion of "pity," a virtue the poet was especially concerned to promote in Henry (199). Also, Gower may have wished to encourage the new king in supporting London's "domus conversorum," a refuge for converted Jews that must have been familiar to Gower (197, 202). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Manuscripts and Textual Studies