‘Þys tale rymeth hou men in senne beþ’: a Study of Vernacular Verse Pastoralia for the English Laity c.1240 - c.1330.
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The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 promoted regular and effective religious instruction for the parish laity. This was facilitated by the development of preaching and instructional texts – works known as pastoralia – which proliferated throughout Europe. This dissertation explores the phenomenon of vernacular pastoralia written in rhymed verse, works intended for oral performance to a lay audience. My focus is on the work of four writers of sacramental instruction in Anglo-Norman and Middle English. The earliest text considered is the Anglo-Norman Corset, written circa 1240-50 by Robert the Chaplain. The other three authors were more or less contemporary, all writing in the late-thirteenth or early-fourteenth centuries. I examine three penitential poems by the Franciscan friar, Nicholas Bozon: Pus ke homme deit morir, Tretys de la Passion and Le char d’Orgueil, and then Handlyng Synne by the Gilbertine, Robert Mannyng. I finally consider the religious poems of William of Shoreham, a vicar in rural Kent, concentrating on De septem sacramentis and On the Trinity, Creation, the Existence of Evil, Devils, Adam and Eve. While all these writers confronted the challenges of providing religious instruction for the laity, their efforts also reflected a concern with social issues and an awareness of the literary nature of their verse enterprises. The texts frequently employed poetic or fictive devices found in popular literary genres and, whilst these illuminated and entertained listeners, they sometimes rendered the teaching obscure. The meeting of sacramental exposition, social discourse and literary invention resulted in complex textual interplay and tension, as well as in memorable formulations of faith. This dissertation considers the content of verse pastoralia in their historical context and aims to assess how the texts may have been received and understood by parishioners in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England.
AuthorsSibson, Carol Anne
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