Langland’s Mary Magdalene: Proverbial Misogyny and the Problem of Authority
In B.19, Conscience repeats the familiar proverb that “women cannot well keep counsel” to suggest that Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene so that the news of his Resurrection would be spread more rapidly. This study examines the narrative history of Conscience’s antifeminist proverb, and the social and historical contexts which may have occasioned its use. These contexts suggest that Conscience’s remark is part of a subtle but deliberate strategy to divest Mary Magdalene’s Christophany of whatever divine and ecclesiastical authority it might command. Conscience’s use of traditional misogyny, coupled with his portrayal of St. Peter as an authoritative counter to the Magdalene, manifests his interest in centralizing ecclesiastical power. His account of the Resurrection may reflect clerical anxiety over women’s increasingly public religiosity in the late Middle Ages.