Literature and Theatre

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Mary Beth Long

Chapter 1 argues that Margery Kempe’s embrace of Marian maternity begins with her Dominican confessor, who mediates her access to textual culture and trains her for her largely arts-based imitatio Mariae program. Her pilgrimages are thus not a separate spiritual endeavor from that program or her engagement with books, but integral to each. Gothic cathedrals, for example, offer material reinforcement of Margery’s maternal status and of her view of Mary’s role in and as the church. Our understanding of Margery’s attempted supersession of Mary depends on how we interpret her use of liturgical space, validated through the medieval concept of Ecclesia. Margery’s version of imitatio Mariae ultimately includes seeing her own body as a sacred house of God. This clarifies and expands what many scholars have called her ‘authority’, a reading that emerges from attending to Mary’s maternal presence in the Book. 

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
Mary’s maternal peers in East Anglian devotion
Mary Beth Long

Chapter 4 examines the East Anglian contexts of British Library MS Arundel 327 and Cambridge University Library Add. MS 2604, two mid-century East Anglian legendaries. Their contents are almost exclusively female saints’ lives that acknowledge the natal families of their subjects; they both also include intriguing allusions to Mary’s social support system, echoing the visual contexts of their patrons’ worship spaces. The importance of birth as a social event helps explain the space that these texts and spaces make for ‘maternal peers’, friends and family in Mary’s early motherhood who shift the portrayal of her maternity further toward the relational. The emphasis on mothering as a shared enterprise may be a function of their patrons’ investment in social connections.

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
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Marian maternity, matricentric reading, and devotional literacies
Mary Beth Long

The introduction lays out the study’s terms of ‘devotional literacies’ and ‘matricentric theory’ and explains why and how the Virgin Mary’s model of maternity came to be so influential in the late-medieval period.

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
Mary Beth Long

Chapter 2 examines Margery’s imitatio Mariae across two types of performative episodes, the Eucharist and the Crucifixion. The Christian appreciation of the body as metaphor encourages Margery’s appropriation of maternal imagery such as the Eucharist, Maria lactans, and the foot of the Cross. Her engagement with these elements is evident from her repeated bodily maneuvering into recognizably Marian spaces. The chapter considers Margery’s inhabitation of Marian and Ecclesian roles and her predilection for spatial play as ways to define and claim authority through her maternity, often as she employs antisemitic tropes. We see this clearly in the chapter’s concluding study of Marian maternity alongside medieval maternal practice through the shared cultural experience of reproductive loss.

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
Mary Beth Long

Chapter 6 traces how the Second Nun’s Tale recalls Mary, Queen of Heaven as the model of persuasion and intercession for Cecilia’s wifely behaviors. The tale connects the ‘Marian Chaucer’ that Heather Blurton and Hannah Johnson describe with imitatio mariae; the Cecilia who is as much wife as virgin reflects the Virgin who acts like a wife. Mary’s appearance in the Second Nun’s Prologue underscores the need for careful reading and for the theological understanding central to the Tale that makes a metaphorical mother of its virgin subject. Cecilia’s invocation of Mary’s maternity means that her public and political engagement with Almachius also puts motherhood in the public sphere. Mary’s model allows us to interpret Cecilia’s rapport with men in the text as maternal rather than [merely] confrontational.

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
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This study investigates the lack of clarity about medieval English depictions of the Virgin Mary’s maternal practices, examining both well-known and esoteric devotional texts, images, plays, theology, and architecture to flesh out how medieval Christians in England understood her status and behaviors as a mother. It considers manuscript contexts and geography, politics as well as prayers, as it wrestles with how and why Mary’s devotees tried to imitate her maternity, and how the late medieval Church and its sympathizers revised the maternal Mary to suit lay preferences.

mothers as agents of orthodoxy
Mary Beth Long

Chapter 5 argues that the manuscripts that situate Chaucer’s poems among other Marian texts encourage readers’ matricentric interpretation. The visual form of Chaucer’s ‘An ABC’ grants power to create new Marian narratives, both visual and textual. The autonomy suggested by these letters allows embroidery to become literary, narrative, and devotional practice. The Prioress’s Tale continues Chaucer’s assumption of a reader’s direct engagement with a Marian narrative and interest in maternal teaching. The plot relies partly on familiarity with Marian maternal mourning and its antisemitic themes. Maternal grief becomes raw material to be shaped and processed into devotion, but it also becomes a test of maternal competence.

in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
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Mary Beth Long
in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
Mary Beth Long
in Marian maternity in late-medieval England
Mary Beth Long
in Marian maternity in late-medieval England