Title Background

Þe Lomes Þat Y Labore With: Vernacular Poetics Clergie, Clergie, and the Repertoire of Reading and Singing in <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Þe Lomes Þat Y Labore With: Vernacular Poetics Clergie, Clergie, and the Repertoire of Reading and Singing in Piers Plowman

Within a more general study of the practices and texts associated with liturgical and devotional reading and singing, this chapter focuses on L as characteristic of Ricardian poets in his invocation of reading and singing in relation to vernacular making. Ricardian poets were innovative not solely in their use of the vernacular, but in their exploration of the various loci of articulation from which a vernacular poetic voice might speak to a broader audience. Liturgical discourse offers one among many sites of performance that L integrates into his discursively macaronic verse as he attempts to create a vernacular poetic voice that will effect an intelligible ‘choral’ harmony between them, yet it is one, as the momentum of final, liturgically structured passûs suggest, that seems to hold the greatest promise. Other parts of the poem, however, struggle with the inevitable forms of self-interest that liturgical performance evoked in this period, which are figured as analogous the ethical difficulties of public poetry. The successive revisions to the third vision, in particular, can be viewed in terms of their foregrounding of a self-conscious poetic speaker, fictively explored through the creation of Will the dreamer, and his relation both to clergie, or institutional knowledge, and to clerical identity. Similarly, Will’s invocation of the devotional/liturgical repertoire of reading and singing as the tools of his labour in the autobiographical insertion of the C version wittily posits a metonymic relationship between vernacular making and performed prayer, with all of the ethical problems such an identification implies. (KZ)

Rev. by:
  • Sam Barrett, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 31 (2009), 392-94; 
  • Elisabeth Dutton, TLS, (31 July 2009); 
  • John C. Hirsh, Medium Ævum, 78 (2009), 141-42; 
  • Michael Kuczynski, The Medieval Review, 09.06.11 [http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.baj9928.0906.011]; 
  • Anne Sadedin, Parergon, 26.2 (2009), 216-17;
  • Jay Diehl, Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, 36 (2010), 136-39;
  • Malcolm Richardson, Religion and Literature, 41.1 (2009), 159-61.


Singing the New Song: Literacy and Liturgy in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), pp. 150–80, 249–55.


Zieman, Katherine