Gower Bibliography

Reading and Singing: Liturgy, Literacy, and Literature in Late Medieval England

Zieman, Katherine Grace. "Reading and Singing: Liturgy, Literacy, and Literature in Late Medieval England." PhD thesis, University of California at Berkeley, 1997.


“This study shows liturgy's intimate connection with changes in definitions of literate status, the articulation of the components of literate skills, and the production of vernacular literature in late medieval England. The fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries witnessed a considerable growth in liturgical benefactions. This upsurge in liturgical activity affected ecclesiastical institutions, their personnel, patrons and clientele. Both cleric and lay might be motivated to produce or consume liturgy through various desires related to piety, education, charity, or display. The variety of motivations, in fact, combined with the multiplication of contexts for performance, led to the unmooring of literate skills associated with the singing and reading of liturgical texts from the traditional context of the choral community. The resulting fluidity of definitions -- both of the skills required for adequate performance of the liturgy and of the spiritual and ethical value of those skills -- is manifested in the decontextualized collocation 'reading and singing.' “The first chapter charts the development and social implications of the collocation ‘reading and singing’ in elementary educational practices (generally known as the ‘song school’). The second examines the fluidity of the term literatus in relation to liturgical and devotional performance. The third describes lay and clerical strategies for investing in the liturgy and the ethical dilemmas this commodification produced. “The final two chapters show how vernacular literature emerges from the foment of activity surrounding ‘reading and singing.’ Langland's Piers Plowman depicts a vernacular maker inhabiting the boundary between cleric and lay, justifying his literary activity as a socially useful labor that synthesizes fragmented clerical discourses while foregrounding ethical questions about their appropriate use, questions he increasingly associated with the ‘reading and singing’ repertoire. In his Vox Clamantis, Gower derives his performative authority from the vernacular concept of the ‘voice of prayer’ in order to divorce his project from the liturgical pretensions of the participants of 1381 rebellion. Chaucer takes up the issue of voice in House of Fame and The Miller’s Tale, turning it into a poetic principle that imputes to the vernacular the authoritative rationality generally restricted to Latin litteras.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:Dissertation Abstracts International 59 (1998): 818A.
Subjects:Vox Clamantis

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