PhD in English from University of Pennsylvania (2018)
MA in English from University of Pennsylvania (2014)
BA from Baylor University (2012)
Medieval English and Latin Literature, Translation, Adaptation, History of Christian Thought, History of the Book, Manuscript Studies
Book Project | The Art of the Question in Late Medieval England
The project considers the role of six question-and-answer practices in the emergence of England’s vernacular literatures. Early in medieval literature, certain question strategies were used as scholarly tools, associated with a learned Latinate culture. By the end of the fourteenth century, however, the urgency of the common people’s desire for knowledge drove religious writers, including John Wyclif, and secular writers, including Geoffrey Chaucer, to stimulate unprecedented literary production in the vernacular. New genres of fiction, religious guidance, and natural philosophy supplied access to realms of knowledge and types of questions previously reserved for priests and scholars. From pedagogy and disputation to inquisition and lyric lament, the book argues that Latinate question-and-answer practices appropriated into the vernacular fundamentally shaped the development of English and Anglo-Norman literatures. Using linguistics alongside literary analysis of such questions demonstrates how individual voices are gendered, emotion is expressed, and social-cultural dominance is established and maintained. In tracing six question-and-answer practices that permeate the boundaries of learned and lay discourses, the book will look beyond individual genres and languages to outline question practices across the range of England’s vernaculars. Despite the role of the interrogative in both communicating the laity’s aspirations for religious or scientific knowledge and reifying social barriers that denied them such access, there has been no sustained study of questions in Medieval English literature.
The book is organized by six question-and answer practices, each defined by a set of pragmatic norms. The first three chapters, on pedagogy, inquisition, and encyclopedia, describe strategies for deploying questions that result in social advancement or changes in existing power structures. In the first chapter, “Pedagogy: The Grammar in Question,” I explore the method of questioning known in England as “apposing” in the Latin grammatical instruction and schoolroom practice that trained writers of Middle English texts. Vernacular texts, such as lives of Saint Catherine and the Infancy of Christ, feature representations of this classroom paradigm that leverage the inherent instability of dialogue, as children outdo their would-be teachers and assume positions of authority by performing well when tested. The second chapter, “Inquisition: Evasive Maneuvers,” uses speech act and politeness theories to argue that conflicts between Lollard and orthodox uses of questions contributed to the making of Lollard heretics in late medieval England. Lollards developed question-and-answer paradigms found in fourteenth-century religious texts, leveraging them to challenge unqualified preachers and evade inquisitional questioning, in ways that profoundly altered the development of vernacular religious instruction. My third chapter, “Encyclopedia: Answers for Every Question,” reassesses encyclopedic dialogues, a genre immensely popular with late medieval readers. I argue that the appeal of vernacular adaptations of these texts is not solely that they convey comprehensive knowledge, but also that they position questions as tools that readers of any social or educational level can learn to deploy at will.
Whereas the first half of the book concerns social effects of questions, the second half examines questions generated in response to wonder as an emotionally compelling experience. The fourth chapter, “Disputation: Preaching Wonder,” argues that scholastic quodlibetal disputations offered preachers a compelling model for shaping the laity’s ability to ask and answer difficult theological questions. By allowing audiences to participate imaginatively in narratives, exegesis, and similitudes that model possible questions, preachers acquainted audiences with the proper emotional responses to spiritually productive or unproductive lines of inquiry. The fifth chapter, “Lyric: Intimately Involved,” argues that the integration of rhetorical questions in lyric invites readers into dialogue with the poem and facilitates the readers’ involvement in the emotions conveyed. When incorporated into verses or refrains, rhetorical questions enfold the reader in a narrative comprised of progressive and sequential states of emotion. In the final chapter, entitled “Narrative: Serious Play,” I examine the alluring questions that motivate characters in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, various Canterbury Tales, romances, and fabliaux to hazard death, dismemberment, and disgrace in search of answers. These narratives fracture familiar categories of knowledge and offer a world open to rediscovery, even while acknowledging the risks that accompany upsetting social order.