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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2014

17 - “Al université de tout le monde”: Public Poetry, English and International

from V - Reception


The fourteenth century, a disenchanted and melancholic age haunted by the impermanence of things and the fragility of words […] was nonetheless a time of inventions fundamental for written works in the vernacular: the invention of the author […] the invention of literature as an object for reflection […] and the invention of the book as a means for presenting the work and the author in their full individuality.

Authorship before print had this public dimension that distinguishes it from authorship in the thirteenth century, and that justifies a bold new designation of Gerson: the medieval public intellectual.

Given Gower's resourcefulness in adapting old works to new circumstances and to court new potential readers, it may be less than surprising that the versatility of his thinking about audience has a synchronic as well as a diachronic dimension: Gower often, even habitually, cultivates several potential audiences at once. More remarkable is that Gower's thinking about audience – at least latterly, in that phase of his career best attested by the meticulously groomed, earliest manuscript record – can often be seen as actively engaging the possibility of a socially indeterminate public that exists beyond, and in addition to, whatever member of England's élite (Richard, Henry, Thomas Arundel, Edward III) he may also address.