Confessio Amantis

Textual history

Composition of the work probably began circa 1386, and the work was completed in 1390. The prologue of this first recension recounts that the work was commissioned by Richard II after a chance meeting with the royal barge on the River Thames; the epilogue dedicates the work to Richard and to Geoffrey Chaucer, as the "disciple and poete" of Venus. This version of the work saw widespread circulation, perhaps due to its royal connections (Peck 2000), and was the most popular of Gower's works, with at least 32 of the 49 surviving manuscripts of the Confessio containing this version.

The subsequent history is complicated and not entirely certain. Much revision took place, some of it by Gower and some probably by individual scribes. What follows is the conventional history as formulated by Macaulay (1901). The true story is probably somewhat more complicated (see e.g. Watt 2003:11–13 for an overview of recent work).

According to Macaulay, a second recension was issued in about 1392, with some significant changes: most notably, most references to Richard are removed, as is the dedication to Chaucer, and these are replaced with a new dedication to Henry of Lancaster, the future Henry IV. It has naturally been commonly assumed that this reflects a shift in the poet's loyalties, and indeed there are signs that Gower was more attached to Henry's party from this period; but while he did attack Richard later in the decade, there is no evidence that these early changes indicate any particular hostility towards either Richard or Chaucer (Peck 2000), and it has been argued that the revision process was not politically motivated at all, but begun rather because Gower wished to improve the style of the work (Burrows 1971:32), with the dedications being altered as a purely secondary matter.

A third and final recension was published in 1393, retaining the dedication to Henry. While only a few manuscripts of this version survive, it has been taken as representing Gower's final vision for the work, and is the best-known version, having served as the basis of all modern editions.

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