Spiritual Community, Gender, and Fatherhood in The Tale of the Sankgreal

  • Catherine Batt
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Is Hoccleve idiosyncratic, or even satirical when, reproaching the Lollard addressee of his “To Sir John Oldcastle” for the heresies which, he says, “un-man” him,2 he recommends that, instead of troubling over the gospels, John Oldcastle remake himself as a masculine knightly subject (especially as one who expresses his Christian faith in violent and martial terms) fortified by reading the historical and chivalric books of the Old Testament (ll. 201–08), Vegetius’s famous text on war strategy, and accounts of Lancelot and of Thebes and Troy?3 Hoccleve goes on to assure Oldcastle that to question the validity of the sacrament of the Eucharist when the officiating priest is in mortal sin is to express a transgressive curiosity: “to deepe yee ransake” (l. 328). The term “ransack,” denoting the exercise of an overcurious intellect in the context of a debate over “mak(ing) Crystes body” (ll. 326–27), also describes the medieval physician’s searching, or “ransacking,” of wounds, and figures Oldcastle’s inquisitiveness as interference with Christ’s own physical wholeness.4 Oldcastle had, furthermore, appropriated religious emblem; his battle standard displayed the eucharistic chalice and its contents.5 In his poem, Hoccleve genders feminine a lay curiosity about the divine, denounces those ignorant foolish women, “lewde calates” (l. 147) who seek knowledge of scripture, tells them to keep out of trouble, to sit at home and spin, and recommends literature other than the gospels as remedy for a probing into God’s mysteries, which latter inquiry can only be injurious to spiritual and—as Oldcastle’s heterodoxy is a political act—physical integrity.6


Spiritual Community Narrative Event Oedipus Complex French Text Divine Grace 
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© Catherine Batt 2002

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  • Catherine Batt

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