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Abstract

The Confessio Amantis concludes with a revelatory scene in which Venus holds up a mirror to Amans, allowing him to recognize John Gower the poet— a moment that is often read as a mimetic and healing counterpoint to the Confessio’s sickness and self-questioning. My intention in this paper is to very slightly modify certain aspects of this narrative, to consider how the materiality of the mirror can inform its metaphoric deployments in the Confessio. I organize my discussion around two seemingly contrasting moments in the poem in which the self is seen and in different ways recognized through a reflective surface: the “Tale of Narcissus,” and the concluding moment in which Amans looks into the mirror to see, eventually, John Gower. Drawing in particular on the production and dissemination of mirrors in the Middle Ages, as well as basic properties of reflection, I point to certain challenges facing the medieval mirror: the hazy reflective properties of the lead mirror, and the impurities of the precariously made, limitedly accessible glass mirror. I ultimately suggest that, more than a revelation through reflective recognition, the Confessio’s ending would have proven most resonant for its portrayal of seeing through a complicated medium.

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Eve Salisbury for her generous encouragement and insights at every phase of this project, as well as Georgiana Donavin, an anonymous reader, and the panelists (MW Bychowski, Sarah Gillette, and Pamela Yee) and attendees at The Gower Project panel (“Gower and Medicine” at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI, in May 2015) for their valuable feedback on successive versions. For her pivotal suggestions at the an earlier version of this essay and, in some cases, seminal stages of this project, as well as her continued support, I thank Marilyn Rosen.