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Newfangled Readers in Gower’s ‘‘Apollonius of Tyre’’ Elizabeth Allen University of California, Irvine John Gower’s tale of ‘‘Apollonius of Tyre’’ begins with a strikingly explicit act of father-daughter incest perpetrated by a king. For Gower, however, ‘‘Apollonius’’ thematizes incest in order to meditate on audience reception: incestuous desire, repeatedly encountered and avoided throughout the narrative, necessitates a series of interpretive acts that figure the relation between king and subject as a relation of mutual audience. The interpretive effort that bolsters monarchy while attending to the needs of its subjects requires imagination on the part of both monarch and subjects. I argue in this essay that incest in ‘‘Apollonius ’’ stages an exploration of such imaginative activity: a series of kings’ daughters are figured as new audiences who reinterpret in order to reaffirm monarchical power. Far from the injunctive exemplary moralism with which Gower used to be associated, the interpretive process hypothesized in ‘‘Apollonius of Tyre’’ urges that readers invent, not just imitate, virtuous conduct. At the same time, moreover, Amans’s reception in the framework of the Confessio complicates Gower’s otherwise affirmative picture of active new audiences because he misunderstands the ways in which the story could apply to his life. Thus despite Book 8’s embrace of imaginative fiction, in particular romance, the final action of the poem also points to severe constraints upon narrative’s real-world applicability, as Amans is reconciled to John Gower and finally renounces love, ‘‘mak[ing] an ende’’ (8.2902) of stories. For what purposes does a poem that concludes with such renunciation generate eight books’ worth of examples, in all their copiousness, applicability, and narrative variety? For what purposes does this poem end with the most frankly fictive of stories, the ‘‘Tale of Apollonius’’? How does Gower PAGE 419 419 ................. 16596$ CH12 11-01-10 14:07:56 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER make this tale, and narrative generally, morally applicable?1 Despite the accomplishments of recent scholarship, the poem’s construction of moral influence remains problematic because, to my mind, our most recent and searching accounts of the poem’s moral complexity tend to underplay the Confessio’s methods of anticipating, and even setting free, its own audience. The Confessio’s conclusion seems particularly perverse because Book 8 already announces an explicit generic shift from exemplum to romance, as though abandoning the former and authorizing the latter. Exemplarity relies on a basic analogy between character and reader that, at its extreme, generates a fantasy of exact repetition: the ideal patient Griselda , for instance, should be possible for wives to imitate. Many readers have seen that Chaucer’s Griselda may not, in fact, be imitable because of the resistance of real-world women, the imperfection of Walter’s judgment, and the unbearable brutality of such suffering.2 For Gower, as for Chaucer, the extreme version of exemplary repetition constitutes not a communicative ideal but a potential trap. Throughout the Confessio , in fact, Amans’s responses generate discussion between himself and Genius about the applicability of stories to his own love affair.3 1 The tag ‘‘moral Gower,’’ which Chaucer bestowed on his contemporary, has been complicated by many critics since the work of John Fisher in John Gower, Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York: New York University Press, 1964). For classic explorations of the connection between morality and poetics in Gower, see Charles Runacres , ‘‘Art and Ethics in the Exempla of the Confessio Amantis,’’ in Gower’s ‘‘Confessio Amantis’’: Responses and Reassessments, ed. Alastair J. Minnis (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 1983), 106–34; and R. F. Yeager, John Gower’s Poetic: The Search for a New Arion (Cambridge : D. S. Brewer, 1990). On the morally formative powers of art in Gower, see James Simpson, Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry: Alain of Lille’s ‘‘Anticlaudianus’’ and John Gower’s ‘‘Confessio Amantis’’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), esp. pp. 136–38. For recent treatments of the ways in which literary effects complicate clear moral truths and demand practical wisdom, see, for example, Patricia Batchelor, ‘‘Feigned Truth and Exemplary Method in the Confessio Amantis,’’ in Re-Visioning Gower, ed. R. F. Yeager (Asheville, N.C.: Pegasus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 419-464
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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