Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation

Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation

Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation

Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation

Synopsis

Devotional texts in late medieval England were notable for their flamboyant piety and their preoccupation with the tortured body of Christ and the grief of the Virgin Mary. Generations of readers internalized and shaped the "cultures of piety" represented by these works. Anne Clark Bartlett and Thomas H. Bestul here gather seven examples of this literature, all written in the period 1350-1450, one in Anglo-Norman, the remainder in Middle English. (The volume includes an appendix containing the original texts of the latter six pieces.) The collection illustrates the polyglottal, conflicting, and often polemical nature of devotional culture in the Middle Ages. It provides a valuable context for and interesting counterpoint to the Canterbury Tales and other classic works of late medieval England. The introduction and the translators' headnotes discuss crucial aspects of the texts' histories and thematics, including the importance of the body in spiritual practices, the development of female patronage and of a wide audience for this literature, and the indivisibility of the political and the religious in medieval times.

Excerpt

This anthology' has been compiled to demonstrate the rich variety of late medieval devotional writing and to suggest its importance in defining the literary culture of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. the works included here were originally written in English, with the exception of one text in Anglo-Norman French. All were written between 1350 and 1450, a remarkably active literary period during which a great many devotional works and religious works of all types were written. By all accounts, works of popular piety far outnumbered the more currently studied dream visions, lyrics, and narrative poetry that were produced during the period and provide a valuable context and counterpoint to the writing we have come to regard as the "masterpieces" of late medieval English literature, such as Piers Plowman, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales , and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We believe that students of later medieval English literature can best acquire a meaningful understanding of late Middle English literary culture if the conception of the "canon" (the body of texts which are thought worthy of study and serious critical attention) is enlarged to encompass texts of the kind included here.

Devotional literature has a long history in the Christian west. From the earliest times, portions of the Bible, particularly the Psalms, served devotional needs, as did the public prayers of the church in the formal liturgy. By the middle of the eighth century, we find collections of Latin prayers compiled chiefly for devotional purposes, and beginning in the middle of . . .

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