My Family First: Draft-dodging Parents in the Confessio Amantis
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 12 (1995)
John Gower’s Confessio Amantis is difficult to pigeonhole: a late fourteenth-century Middle English text, it is at once a social complaint, a romance, a dream vision, a penitential manual, and a mirror for princes. Within the text, a social complaint frames a dialogue between a Lover and Genius, the priest of Venus, in which the Lover confesses his sins against love. That dialogue in turn frames over one hundred exempla, or moralized tales, each illustrating a particular sin against love. Book Seven of the Confessio, however, focuses on the education of Alexander and the arts of kingship. As Kurt Olsson has observed, the Confessio’s aggregation of genres and emphases creates more than one dialectic within the poem. Recent criticism has suggested three oppositions within the poem: the political versus the personal realm, the Christian versus the secular realm, and the ethical versus the poetic realm. While acknowledging the presence of other voices within the poem, this paper will focus on the Confessio’s secular voice: the voice that complains of the division that plagues fourteenth-century England, and dreams of seeing that division replaced by love. This voice, which I associate with the implied author, is deeply concerned by the unravelling of human bonds, represented in their most basic form by the nuclear family.