The Judge as Reader, the Reader as Judge: Literary and Legal Judgment in Dante, Machaut, and Gower.

McGerr, Rosemarie.

The Judge as Reader, the Reader as Judge: Literary and Legal Judgment in Dante, Machaut, and Gower.

McGerr, Rosemarie. "The Judge as Reader, the Reader as Judge: Literary and Legal Judgment in Dante, Machaut, and Gower." 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. 165-91.

The prince's role as judge is a central concern of the "F├╝rstenspiegel" tradition, McGerr notes, but the three works in question in this essay "complicate the depiction of legal judgment by inscribing the poet into the process of judgment. . . . The author's persona is literally judged within the poem but figuratively authorizes a process of judgment for readers that links literary judgment to legal judgment. In particular, by exploring the relationship between reading and judging, these authors constructed poems that highlight the role of reading as a means of developing good judgment, whether by princes or by other readers whose self-government contributed to creating a just society" (167). The link between reading and judging has deeps roots in language, McGerr observes, in the common Latin root of both "legible" and "legislation," for instance, and in the multiple uses, in Old and Middle English, of "raedan" and "reden." Isidore of Seville declared that "lex a legendo vocata," and John of Salisbury, echoing Deuteronomy, insisted that rulers should read the law each day. In Dante, the link between reading and legal judgment is most explicit in the sphere of Justice in "Paradiso" 18-20, a passage that McGerr labels a "mirror for princes" in its concern for just rulership. Machaut's "Navarre" explores the relation between reading and judgment by framing the debate about suffering in love in legal terms and by ascribing to the King of Navarre "'reading' skills superior to those of the poet-narrator" (177). Gower's CA is linked to both earlier works in its linking of love and kingship, in its education of both the lover-narrator and the prince, and in its emphasis on the importance of law to good kingship. Citing Mitchell and others, McGerr notes Gower's use of exempla to provoke the reader to more perceptive reading. She adds a discussion of Gower's pervasive use of "rede" and its derivatives in contexts invoking reading, judging, and advising (many of which also require the reader's alert attention in order to discern the proper sense) and Genius' repeated references to the lesson to be found in "bokes." "The 'Confessio' suggests strongly that reading can serve as a means of inquiry and analysis that facilitates ethical judgment, for kings and others. Gower's poem presents a portrait of the prince as judge and therefore one for whom reading skills are essential; but, through the poet-protagonist's experience of the process of judgment within the narrative, the 'Confessio' also presents its advice about royal judgment indirectly, at the same time that it . . . offers all readers a mean of gaining greater skill in ethical judgment" (186). [PN. Copyright. John Gower Society. eJGN 37.1].


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations