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Cursed Speakers

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Magical Power Religious Worship Parish Church Canterbury Tale Verbal Formula 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    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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  6. 2.
    William Kamowski, “The Sinner against the Scoundrels: The Ills of Doctrine and ‘Shrift’ in the Wife of Bath’s, Friar’s and Summoner’s Narratives,” Religion and Literature 25 (1993): 1–18, argues that the Wife’s Tale illuminates clerical abuses, particularly in the sacrament of confession (8).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    H. Marshall Leicester Jr., “‘No Vilenys Word’: Social Context and Performance in Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 17 (1982): 21–39, 25.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Clarence H. Miller, “The Devil’s Bows and Arrows: Another Clue to the Identity of the Yeoman in Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 30 (1995): 211–4, 212.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gail Ivy Berlin, “Speaking to the Devil: A New Context for the Friar’s Tale,” Philological Quarterly 69 (1990): 1–12, 2.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    1 Samuel 28:7. All scripture quotations are taken from Biblia Sacra Iuxta Vulgatam Clementiam, 5th ed. On scriptural commentaries about the Witch of Endor’s ventriloquial speech, see Stephen Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism, esp. 75–101; and Klaus A. D. Smelik, “The Witch of Endor, 1 Samuel 28 in Rabbinic and Christian exegesis until 800 A. D.,” Vigiliae Christianiae 33 (1979): 160–79.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    As David Raybin, “The Death of a Silent Woman: Voice and Power in Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95 (1996): 19–37, points out, Chaucer borrowed the story from sources, but he adds the wife’s silence (25). As Raybin notes, in Ovid’s version of the tale, Phebus kills his wife only to discover she was pregnant with his son, a detail Chaucer tellingly omits. If one reads The Manciple’s Tale as concerned foremost with the voice’s workings, the wife’s pregnancy connotes a form of speech, oracular belly-speech that discloses haunting secrets and, by extension, would have detracted from Chaucer’s overstated depiction of her as silent.Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Mary M. Schaefer, “Twelfth Century Latin Commentaries on the Mass: the Relationship of the Priest to Christ and to the People,” Studia liturgica 15 (1982–1983): 76–86.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    See Joseph E. Grennen, “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Alchemical ‘Mass,’” Studies in Philology 62 (1965): 546–60.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    Anne Hudson, “A Lollard Mass,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., vol 33., pt. 2 (1972): 407–19, 418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 46.
    Linda Tarte Holley, “The Function of Language in Three Canterbury Churchmen,” Parergon 28 (1980): 36–44, invokes Augustinian ideas on language, particularly the potential rift between words and their meaning, in discussion the Pardoner’s, Friar’s, and Summoner’s narratives.Google Scholar
  16. 60.
    Sheila Delany, “Doer of the Word: The Epistle of St. James as a Source for Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 17 (1983): 250–4, points out that a possible source for the mother’s speech is the Epistle of St. James.Google Scholar
  17. 62.
    On the relevance of these concerns to the voice, see Stephen Connor, “The Decomposing Voice of Postmodern Music,” New Literary History 32 (2001): 467–83; and Michael Taussig, “His Master’s Voice,”, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, 212–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 64.
    On Chaucer’s depiction of the controversy over vernacular translations as they entailed a loss of clerical prerogative, see Fiona Somerset, “‘As just as is a squyre:’ the Politics of ‘Lewed Translacion’ in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 187–207.Google Scholar

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© Mary Hayes 2011

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  • Mary Hayes

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