Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This project reads two texts composed by women in the shadow of Arundel’s Constitutions – The Book of Margery Kempe and Eleanor Hull’s Commentary on the Seven Penitential Psalms – as two forms of response to the late fourteenth-century critique of clergy best exemplified by William Langland’s Piers Plowman. Langland’s poem describes the failures of institutional clergy, particularly that of their responsibility to evoke contrition in lay penitents. The poem deftly questions “Clergie,” revealing a multiplicity of meanings and the inability of the myriad forms of clerical authority to serve the “lewed.” The poem ends with the allegorical figure of Contrition lying “drowned in a dream,” abandoned by the clerical figures charged with nurturing him. The Book of Margery Kempe and Hull’s Commentary both subvert existing paradigms for women’s writing in Middle Ages and they produce different forms of vernacular voice with a shared aim, that of modeling contrition for their audiences. They both appropriate various clerical functions – Hull takes on the educational and exegetical functions of “clergie” while Margery Kempe offers an alternative model of pastoral care and liturgical intercession. Both step into the void created by insufficient pastoral care and challenge any simple distinction between “lewed” and “clergie” in late medieval England.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

David Lawton

Committee Members

Jessica Rosenfeld, Daniel Bornstein, Joseph Loewenstein, Antony Hasler,


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