Cursed Speakers

  • Mary Hayes
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Alfred’s Hierdboc and the preaching texts by Ælfric are both marked by a cultural interest in pastoral care, carried out by the ministers in Alfred’s case and by the parish churches in Ælfric’s, circumstances that gave rise to anxieties about how the priest used his voice. As I pointed out in my introduction, Chaucer was also writing in a time characterized by a concerted investment in the priest’s voice, albeit borne of different cultural impulses. The changes wrought by the Fourth Lateran Council placed great purchase on the role of preaching and confession, institutions which invested the priest’s voice with great power. In addition to the influence of the Council disseminated by church officials such as Peckham (c. 1230–92), Chaucer was also undoubtedly affected by the career of John Wyclif, who emphasized the priest’s duty to preach and thus endowed the clerical voice (perhaps unwittingly) with great power. Yet, Wyclif also believed that the rest of the liturgy should be in the vernacular, a situation that would give rise to the potential usurpation of the priest’s voice à la singing-shepherd episode that I related in the introduction. Indeed, in Chaucer’s time, the power of the clerical voice was complicated by the vernacular language movement that translated Latin works into English, making clerical domain now subject to lay appropriation.


Magical Power Religious Worship Parish Church Canterbury Tale Verbal Formula 
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    For critical discussions of the cursing scenes at the tale’s end, see Alcuin Blamires, Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender; Mary Carruthers, “Letter and Gloss in the Friar’s and Summoner’s Tales,” Journal of Narrative Technique 2 (1972): 208–214;Google Scholar
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© Mary Hayes 2011

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