Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower (Chaucer by J. Allan Mitchell

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By J. Allan Mitchell

Why do medieval writers normally utilize exemplary rhetoric? How does it paintings, and what are its moral and poetical values? And if Chaucer and Gower has to be visible as vigorously subverting it, then why do they persist in utilizing it? Borrowing from fresh advancements in moral feedback and conception, this ebook addresses such questions by means of reconstructing a overdue medieval motive for the ethics of exemplary narrative. the writer argues that Chaucer's Canterbury stories and Gower's Confessio Amantis attest to the energy of a story - instead of strictly normative - ethics that has roots in premodern traditions of useful cause and rhetoric. Chaucer and Gower are proven to be inheritors and respecters of an early and unforeseen type of moral pragmatism - which has profound implications for the orthodox heritage of ethics within the West.

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6 There is no total homogeneity among medieval writers and thinkers who appeal to rhetoric as the ground of practical deliberation, yet it may at least be observed that in earlier centuries there was a shared conception of morality attaching itself to particular cases, working itself out in accord with circumstances rather than over against them, and striving to serve the diverse needs of conscientious moral agents. In what follows, after giving a fuller definition of casuistic reasoning, I will explore key texts and social practices that constitute the legacy of rhetorical reason with its grounding in cases, conscience, and circumstances.

Qxd 3/3/04 32 10:13 AM Page 32 Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower ease of use as a reference tool. Some contained moralized stories, others unmoralized. For instance, the Alphabetum narrationum consists of exempla arranged by topics in alphabetical order so that the preacher may easily find a suitable specimen, while the Speculum Exemplorum offers moralized stories but is not arranged alphabetically. Now the relationship between exempla collections and actual practice – the oral event that is the sermon declaimed from the pulpit – is most important to notice.

My inquiry here will therefore be directed principally towards answering the how rather than the what of Gower’s exemplarity, as I attempt to delineate the particular ethos (rather See Ralph Hanna, III, “Some Commonplaces of Late Medieval Patience Discussions: An Introduction,” in The Triumph of Patience: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. Gerald J. Schiffhorst (Orlando, 1978), pp. 65–87. 5 Any consistency the poem does receive thanks to its structural arrangement is minimal because it is subverted first by the positioning of Book 7, which breaks from the pattern of the seven sins to give an account of the civic virtues of the king, and then by the surprising reduction of the sin of lust to incest in Book 8.

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