Hidden Matter in John Gower's "Confessio Amantis."

Parkin, Gabrielle.

Hidden Matter in John Gower's "Confessio Amantis."

Parkin, Gabrielle. "Hidden Matter in John Gower's 'Confessio Amantis." 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. 295-305.

This essay considers the material world in Gower's CA, with particular focus on "crafted things," a cause of particular "anxiety about the ways in which such goods are produced and used" (295) in a corrupt and declining world. Both Aristotle and Thomas taught that all things are "hylomorphic," inseparable in form and matter, while medieval poets believed the same of their craft. As her chief example, Parkin discusses the jewel-encrusted goblet in the "Tale of Albinus and Rosemund," which despite its polished surface and innocent appearance is really constructed around the skull of Rosemund's father, who was killed in battle by her husband Albinus. The ambiguous status of the cup can best be understood in the context of Aquinas and Ockham on form and matter. Following Aristotle, Aquinas taught that "the body of any animal is a substance, while manufactured things . . . are artifacts" (300). For Aquinas, the skull cup is now an artifact, as the body ceases to be a substance when it is no longer alive, but for Ockham, even a dead body retains some properties of a substance--else why do we venerate the bodies of the saints (302)? For Gower, along the lines of Ockham, the skull retains "a kind of vitality" (302), but it is the craftsman who transforms it into a deceptive artifact with the power to do harm. Despite his anxiety over crafted objects, Gower believed in the possibility of honest craft; his own poetry, including the plain morality of "Albinus and Rosemund," is evidence of that (304-05). [LBB. Copyright. John Gower Society. JGN 36.2].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis