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Pax Poetica: On the Pacifism of Chaucer and Gower R. E Yeager University ofNorth Carolina at Asheville T,question of what attitu�, Chaucer ,nd Gower may haw held toward peace and warfare is not, in itself, a new one. A number of scholars have addressed the problem in the past, frequently scrutinizing Chaucer, although Gower too has provoked comment. Among other truths, a thoughtful traverse across this field of opinion supports that of a favorite maxim of Chaucer's: "Diverse foolke diversely they speke." Chaucer, we may find, is a firm supporter of chivalry,1 a sharp critic of chivalry,2 or a shrewd courtier attempting to include something for everyone in his works.3 About Gower we may discover much of the same, if less often: he too supports the status quo, including the chivalric ideal;4 he too attacks the chivalric ideal, from the viewpoint of the rising bourgeoisie- or of the commons, or yet of the church;5 and he opposes war but yet defends crusades.6 So great attention having been paid already with so little firm result, perhaps the ultimate lesson we should learn from earlier scholarship is that 1 See, for example, Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry (London: Longman, 1970), p. 155; and, further, Gardiner Stillwell, "Chaucer's Knight and the Hundred Years' War," MLN 59 (1944):45-47. 2 The stoutest attack is leveled by TerryJones, Chaucer'sKnight: The Portrait ofaMedieval Mercenary (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980). 3 Thisattitude ismaintained bymany; forapplicationto TheKnight's Tale, seeparticularly S. Robertson, "Elements ofRealism in the Knight's Tale,"JEGP 14 (1915):226-55. 4 See Gervase Mathew, The Court a/Richard II (New York: Norton, 1968), pp. 119-25. 5 See,forexample,EdwardWagenknecht, The Personality ofChaucer(Norman: University ofOklahoma Press, 1968), pp. 115-16; Sister Mary Alice Grellner, ''.John Gower's Confessio Amantis: A Critical Assessment ofThemes and Structure" (Ph.D. diss., University ofW iscon­ sin, 1969). 6 See John Barnie, Wtir in Medieval Society: Social Values and the Hundred Years' Wtir, 1337-99 (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1974), pp. 124, 130-33; Wilma L. Tague, ''.John Gower's Confessio Amantis: An Hypothesis of Structure" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1972). 97 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER the question ofthe pacifism- or lack thereof-ofChaucer and Gower is not a simple one. We are not likely to resolve it once and for all to the satisfaction of everyone. And yet there is undeniably an eirenic voice in Chaucer and Gower in need of study. If they were not radical pacifists as were the later Lollards, yettheirpoetry reveals them to have given substan­ tial thought to the meaning of war and peace, both for the individual and for the nation.7 They were, moreover, consistently so concerned: we do not find expressed in their works the glorification of battle and chivalric head cracking so joyfully iterated by Froissart or in so many of the romances or later in Malory. If we can trust their work which has come down to us as legitimate and representative, such an absence would seem to suggest a preference. By the subjects they chose and the statements they made (or left unmade), Chaucer and Gower may indeed have offered real alternatives to the violence of their times. Yet, although Chaucer and Gower are similar in certain ways, they are not, after all, identical sensibilities. Thus, while several themes in Gower's 7 "Pacifism," meaning moral or religious opposition to war or violence and a consequent refusal to bear arms, is of modern derivation (R. W Burchfield, ed., A Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary [Oxford: Clarendon, 1972], s.v. pacifism); the term is thus anachronistic when applied to Chaucer and Gower. Nonetheless, the tenth of the "Twelve Conclusions" circulated about London in 1396 by the Lollards comes quite close to what we would call in the twentieth century a pacifist stance: ")Je ten3e conclusion is, pat manslaute be batayle or pretense !awe of rythwysnesse for temporal cause or spirituel with outen special reuelaciun is expres contrarious to pe newe testament, pe qwiche is a !awe of grace and ful of mercy. )Jisconclusionis opinlyprouidbeexsampleof Cristisprechinghere in erthe,pe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 97-121
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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