Teaching unreasonable tales
The parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard
in The politics of Middle English parables
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Chapter 1 investigates how writers reconciled the labour politics of late medieval England with a Gospel story that subverts common economic practices. The post-plague economy, marked by labour shortage, depended upon the full employment of all able-bodied individuals, yet the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard features a landowner paying workers for a full day when they only worked a single hour. Middle English translations reveal sharp disagreement over whether the parable affirms or condemns contemporary socio-economic structures. The chapter initially focuses on translations within sermons and identifies a prominent trend to retell the parable in ways that encourage work in traditional social roles. It then argues that the well-known rendition of the Vineyard parable in the Middle English poem Pearl should be read as a counter-narrative challenging a predominant homiletic discourse: the Pearl retelling dismisses the analogies between the human and divine realms upon which the sermons depend and rejects the notion that salvation could depend upon prescribed social practices.

The politics of Middle English parables

Fiction, theology, and social practice


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