Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Medieval Church, The Book of Margery Kempe and Everyman :: Book of Margery Kempe Essays

The Medieval Church, The Book of Margery Kempe and Everyman While the Reformation is generally regarded to have begun with Martin Luther’s famous treatise of 1517, the seeds of dissent sown in the 14th century had already taken full root in England by the middle of the 15th century. War, disease, and oppressive government led to a general anger toward the Catholic Church, believed to be â€Å"among the greatest of the oppressive landowners† (Norton 10). John Wycliffe, whose sermons preached against abuses in the church and attempted to shift the focus of religious faith away from church rituals and onto scriptural interpretation, was persecuted. Renaissance Humanism’s notion of individual agency was filtering across the Channel. The medieval texts The Book of Margery Kempe (probably written in the late 1430s) and Everyman (after 1485) are therefore products of turbulent religious times. Everyman, in that it highlights the importance of the sacraments and the clergy, can be seen as a response on the part of the Catholic Church to the challenges it faced. The Book of Margery Kempe gives hints into the nature of these challenges. Both texts reveal a medieval concern about the role of the clergy in England. The Book of Margery Kempe, while presented as spiritual autobiography, was also a story as transcribed by a priest. Although the manuscript was not â€Å"discovered† until 1934, it shows evidence of having been read and studied much before this time. Annotations by four additional hands, probably â€Å"monks associated with the important Carthusian priory of Mount Grace in Yorkshire† fill the margins of the British Library MS (Staley 2). Believed to retain â€Å"much of the characteristic form and expression of its author†, it nonetheless must be remembered that Kempe’s story was interpreted and presented through a very specific (clerical) lens (Norton 367). Lynn Staley, who studied the early annotations made to the original manuscript, notes that the marginal comments and underlining â€Å"are directed toward elucidating the â€Å"affective† emphasis of the text† (5). â€Å"The challenge to authority implicit in Margery’s experiences,† Staley continues, â€Å"is downplayed by highlighting those characteristics that link Margery to the conventions of spiritual ecstasy† (6). Staley suggests that Kempe’s narration is shaped â€Å"to guide subsequent readers towards a carefully controlled response, one that obviates the radical social gospel submerged in Kempe’s Narrative† (6). Given that this â€Å"radical social gospel† is nonetheless present in Kempe’s story and that it contains an ambiguous picture

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