Thirteenth-Century English Religious Lyrics, Religious Women, and the Cistercian Imagination
Nearly all of the brief Middle English lyric poems that began to appear in manuscripts during the first half of the thirteenth century are religious in nature, and nearly all either concern the passion of Christ or are prayers to his mother, Mary. Very often the two motifs appear in tandem, in poems that place both speaker and audience at the foot of Christ's cross where Mary is engulfed in a sorrow that the reader is asked to experience empathetically. This dissertation argues that the lyrics grew out of a prose meditative genre, in particular a Cistercian meditative genre related to twelfth-century exegesis of the Song of Songs, that offered readers a series of visual tableaux of events in the life of Christ to experience imaginatively. The passion of Christ was a central focus of this sort of meditation. The English Cistercian abbot Aelred of Rievaulx's De institutione inclusarum, a treatise addressed to his anchoress-sister, offered a model of this genre that was widely copied and imitated, and some of the earliest English religious lyrics appear either as part of those prose meditative texts or as appendices thereto. Eventually both the prose texts and the lyrics became devotional reading for laypeople. This dissertation examines the literary relationship between the lyrics and the prose texts and some of the manuscripts where the earliest Middle English religious lyrics appear.
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