Simple Readers (Mis)Reading Profound Matter in English: The Lollard Heresy of Reading and its Effects on English Vernacular Theological Writing in the Late Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
Beare, Nicole Alexandra
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This thesis argues that both Lollard efforts to disseminate heterodox opinions in simple terms for simple readers and the Church’s reactionary and ineffective endeavours to combat this heresy with legislation and writing of its own constrained fifteenth-century vernacular theological writing. First, I summarise the current debate about the restrictive aims and effects of legislative efforts to eliminate the Lollard heresy, and I outline the historical context leading up to and following Archbishop Arundel’s Constitutions of 1409. The subsequent chapters trace the effects of ecclesiastical restrictions over time on vernacular theological writing. In Chapter 2, I explore the use of literary devices in two Lollard dialogues, and I argue that in the years preceding the Constitutions Lollard writers exhibited a readiness to employ literary tools as a means to persuade effectively. In Chapter 3, I argue that many of Langland’s major C revisions to Piers Plowman, undertaken in the aftermath of ecclesiastical restrictions, represent a response to Lollard-inspired rebel misreadings of the poem and sacrifice instances of bold poetic imagery as they endeavour to clarify doctrinal positions. In Chapter 4, I argue that Thorpe’s foregrounding of the generic conventions of hagiography in his Testimony reflects the pre-Constitutions readiness of Lollard writers to use literary tools to persuade simple readers. In Chapter 5, I argue that Love’s Church-sanctioned Mirror represented an orthodox tool in the war on heresy, but it failed to curb lay misinterpretation of theological issues. In Chapter 6, I argue that The Book of Margery Kempe serves as a reader’s response to Love’s Mirror and, therefore, demonstrates the ways in which Love’s orthodox text could be misread by orthodox readers. I conclude the thesis by considering the Lollard Lanterne of Li?t and Pecock’s orthodox vernacular theology. I argue that these works show that after the Constitutions both heterodox and orthodox writers demonstrated an increased urgency to tailor their writing for simple readers and that this tailoring meant, for both sides, an eschewing of literary features. I assert that the Church’s aggressive response to these works further constrained vernacular theological writing by suppressing its writers, readers, and circulation.