Lay Piety and Religious Discipline in Middle English Literature

Lay Piety and Religious Discipline in Middle English Literature

In late-fourteenth-century England, the persistent question of how to live the best life preoccupied many pious Christians. One answer was provided by a new genre of prose guides that adapted professional religious rules and routines for lay audiences. These texts engaged with many of the same cultural questions as poets like Langland and Chaucer; however, they have not received the critical attention they deserve until now. Nicole Rice analyses how the idea of religious discipline was translated into varied literary forms in an atmosphere of religious change and controversy. By considering the themes of spiritual discipline, religious identity, and orthodoxy in Langland and Chaucer, the study also brings fresh perspectives to bear on Piers Plowman and The Canterbury Tales. This juxtaposition of spiritual guidance and poetry will form an important contribution to our understanding of both authors and of late medieval religious practice and thought.


"In a slim, yet richly dense, volume, Nicole Rice provides an important discussion of prose devotional texts written in Middle English expressly for lay readers."

"In this rich, thoughtful, and very interesting study Nicole R. Rice has sketched out what almost amounts to a short history of lay spirituality in late medieval England … One of the real strengths of this book is its willingness to engage religious attitudes and to consider how far these attitudes respond to late medieval devout practices."
John C. Hirsh, Medium Aevum


Winner of the Medieval Academy of America's John Nicholas Brown Prize for 2013