Polarized Debates, Ambivalent Judgments: The "Jugement Behaigne" and the "Confessio Amantis."

Beer, Lewis.

Polarized Debates, Ambivalent Judgments: The "Jugement Behaigne" and the "Confessio Amantis."

Beer, Lewis. "Polarized Debates, Ambivalent Judgments: The 'Jugement Behaigne' and the 'Confessio Amantis'." In R Barton Palmer, and Burt Kimmelman, eds. Machaut's Legacy: The Judgment Poetry Tradition in the Later Middle Ages and Beyond (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017), pp. 217-39.

Beer's is the first (alphabetically) of three essays from Palmer and Kimmelman's collection of studies of the importance of Machaut's "Jugement dou roy de Behaigne" and "Jugement dou roy de Navarre" as models not just for the works of his immediate successors but also, more provocatively, for aspects of the modern novel. Both "Behaigne" and CA, Beer argues, like the earlier love-debate poetry from which both derive, are "centrally concerned with a conflict between idealism and pragmatism" (217) and "between two views of love: one that sees it as aligned with virtue, and one that sees it as aligned with immoral or amoral carnal desire" (218). And like such debate poetry, which typically leaves the final judgment to the reader, both poets make large concessions to both opposing views though finally tilting in favor of a more strictly orthodox moral position. In his discussion of "Behaigne," Beer insists on the priority given to the role of Reason, who dismisses all love as "charnel affection" (taking issue with the reviewer's account of the moral bearings of the poem), and he argues that Genius' final dismissal of love in Book 8 is anticipated by earlier assessments of the moral status of love during Amans' confession, though neither Joenesce (in "Behaigne") nor Amans is held to be completely in error. "Gower, like Machaut, offers the inevitable moral conclusion on love, but also acknowledges the appeal of the un-arbitrated 'jeu-parti' that allows us to believe that the debate--along with love, poetry, and the imaginative realm in which these things operate--can go on perpetually. What is at issue here is nothing less than the appeal of 'this lyves lust.' Machaut and Gower invest sympathetically in the idea that such worldly pleasure can be idealized and given enduring value, and the energy and persistence of this fantasy constitutes a significant part of these poems' appeal. It is a fantasy, nonetheless, because both poets also figure the attempt to align love with virtue as essentially futile. Both the 'Behaigne' and the 'Confessio' make this point clearly and conclusively: earthly love, they say, simply is carnal and sinful, and therefore can never can be an adequate substitute for, or (on its own) a sufficient means of attaining, any form of salvation" (237). [PN. Copyright. John Gower Society. eJGN 37.1].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations