Title Background

Clerical Discourse and Lay Audience in Late Medieval England

Clerical Discourse and Lay Audience in Late Medieval England

An investigation of how late medieval English writers who translated specialized academic knowledge from Latin into English often projected unprecedented sorts of lay audiences for their writing, and exhibited self-consciousness as to the potential results of making the information they presented more widely available. Chapter 2 addresses L. Will and other exponents of “lewed clergie” exemplify to varying degrees a mode of critical questioning, an attempt at authorizing vernacular writing about clergy. The obscurity of Will’s own clerical status, in addition to the paradox of Piers’s apparent literacy, confronts the problem of lay access to “clergie”: that is, authority on matters concerning the clergy. Will is also extraclerical in that he rejects conventional answers and uncovers new questions that his interlocutors have difficulty addressing. Ymaginatif’s defense of “clergie” rests on his conflation of “clergie”/book-learning, though this strategy creates a contradiction between his insistence on the superior authority of clergymen and his claim that anyone can achieve “clergie” through learning or through grace. Anima’s exposition, while deriving from homiletic prose, claims a “lewed” allegiance to authorize lay critique of clergy but then imputes a pejorative meaning for “lewed” to the clerics he criticizes. The “lewed” vicar of B.19 opposes the king’s claim to supreme power by virtue of his extraclerical position, yet he strongly criticizes the pope and is more pessimistic than most figures in the poem about the possibility of reform. In the references to writing at the beginning and ending of B.19, L avoids any direct reference to the audience for whom he is mediating “clergie” and wraps his self-description as a mediator around his darkest vision of its potential social effects.

Rev. Ronald Waldron, N&Q 46 (1999): 513-14; W. Bouldin, Renaissance Quarterly 53.2 (2000): 593-94; J. G. Clark, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 51.1 (2000): 157-58; V. Edden, Expository Times 110.12 (1999): 413-13; L. V. Ryan, Albion 31.4 (1999): 621-22.


Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


Somerset, Fiona