Rhetorical Stimulus in the Prick of Conscience

  • Howell Chickering
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


About twenty years ago, my son Ben attended Jeremy’s medieval history lectures in the SMU summer program at Oxford, thanks to Bonnie and Jeremy’s typical generosity. He returned to the States enthusiastic about medieval history, and proclaimed to me that Jeremy “could make any subject interesting.” I know this has been true for generations of Jeremy’s students, and I have always found it to be the case in scholarly conversations with him. In tribute to Jeremy’s ability to make the most unlikely subjects interesting—indeed, often fascinating—I offer the present essay on a Middle English poem that is read very little today but that apparently deeply engrossed its contemporary audience. I do not expect to engage my readers with anything like Jeremy’s verve and energy, but I will feel that he has been honored by my contribution if they find the following pages interesting.


Fourteenth Century Book Versus Christian Doctrine Sensory Detail Modern Language Association 
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  1. 1.
    For the manuscripts, see Robert E. Lewis and Angus Mclntosh, A Descriptive Guide to the Manuscripts of the “Prick of Conscience,” Medium Aevum Monographs, n.s. 12 (Oxford: The Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages and Literature, 1982);Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hope Emily Allen, “The Authorship of the Prick of Conscience,” in Studies in English and Comparative Literature, Radcliffe College Monographs 15 (Boston: Ginn, 1910), pp. 115–70.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde 1.557, quoted from The Riverside Chaucer, Larry D. Benson, gen. ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), p. 481.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Quoted from F.M. Powicke and C.R. Cheney eds., Councils and Synods, with Other Documents Relating to the English Church, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 901.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Thomas H. Bestul, “Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale and the Late-Medieval Tradition of Religious Meditation,” Speculum 64 (1989): 600–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 25.
    Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Nicholas Watson, Andrew Taylor, and Ruth Evans eds., The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280–1520 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), p. 241.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    See further P.S. Jolliffe, A Check-List of Middle English Prose Writing of Spiritual Guidance (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1974), pp. 36–37.Google Scholar
  8. 31.
    see Edmond Faral, Les arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle: recherches et documents sur la technique littéraire du moyen âge (Paris: E. Champion, 1958), pp. 194–262.Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    Lotario dei Segni (the future Pope Innocent III), De Miseria Condicionis Humane, ed. and trans. Robert E. Lewis (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1978), p. 5.Google Scholar
  10. 55.
    Lee Patterson, “The Parson’s Tale and the Quitting of the Canterbury Tales’,’ Traditio 34 (1978): 331–80; quotation, p. 348 n45.Google Scholar
  11. 56.
    For a history of the concept, see P.F. Palmer, “Attrition and Attritionism,” The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd edn., vol. 1 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003), pp. 842–43.Google Scholar

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© Stephanie Hayes-Healy 2005

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  • Howell Chickering

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