Title Background

Devotional Postures in <i>Piers Plowman</i> B with an Appendix on Divine Postures, with an Appendix on Divine Postures

Devotional Postures in Piers Plowman B with an Appendix on Divine Postures, with an Appendix on Divine Postures

Posture is a staple of medieval devotion. In PPl, some twenty postures are mentioned literally as means of devotion by human characters and personifications; others are implied; and about a dozen are used as metaphors for such devotion. Literal postures include walking, running, kneeling, standing, bowing, sitting, lying down either in rest or in prostration, and perhaps leaning. Other, more surprising, devotional postures such as riding, fighting, labouring, and making love are implied in verbs of bodily action, and metaphors for devotion include leaping and catching. These postures tend to be communal, often liturgical, usually the postures of laypersons rather than clergy. Even more interesting than the postures that are mentioned are those that are absent, specifically any postures of what Hamburger calls ‘harsh asceticism’. All of this is characteristic of a spirituality that is lay, moderate, and holistic, quite different from the more affective devotion so familiar to us from other studies. An appendix lists devotional postures attributed to God and Christ in the poem. The literal postures of the poem’s Christ are often based upon the Gospels and replicated in medieval art. Christ is usually in rapid motion, most often walking, except on the Cross, where his static position is enforced by nails. Yet paradoxically, verbs suggest that in his helplessness he is defeating the devils as a victorious fighter, and verbs in passus 18 emphasize this. God (except for Christ) is shown in metaphorical postures such as sitting, leaping, and labouring as a builder. These postures add to our understanding of varied fourteenth-century spiritualities and of the poet’s sense of God and God’s relationships with humans. (MCD)


Chaucer Review, 42 (2007), 161–79.


Davlin, Mary Clemente