The Weight of Experience: John Gower and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

  • Joel D. Anderson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter revolves around the Visio Anglie found in Book One of John Gower’s Vox Clamantis. Representing Gower’s poetic response to the Peasants’ Revolt, the Visio features a nightmarish dream vision in which throngs of rogue peasants are transformed first into common beasts and then into hybrid monsters. In contrast to scholars who have emphasized the mediated and detached character of the work, I argue that Gower’s dreamer inhabits a hyper-sensual world in which perception is extremely emotional, physical, and visceral. Images, words, and experiences weigh on the dreamer; they are materially and unforgettably imprinted in his mind and body. An opposing model of sensation and cognition governs the behavior of the monstrous peasants, who live in an ahistorical present in which exemplary words and experiences carry no weight. I suggest that even as the poem becomes more fantastic, allegorical, and abstracted, it also evokes a kind of “deep history” of the rebellion. It is an affective exemplum for England’s nobility to ponder, re-experience, and remember.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel D. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of MaineOronoUSA

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