Comparing Piety in The Wakefield Mystery Plays, The Book of Margery Kempe, and Le Morte D'Arthur
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Comparing Notions of Piety in The Wakefield Mystery Plays, The Book of Margery Kempe, and Le Morte D'Arthur
The monastic lifestyle that Launcelot and his knights adopt after their conversion is one that Margery Kempe might approve of -- doing penance, singing mass, fasting, and remaining abstinent. (MdA, 525) But Launcelot's change of heart is not motivated by the emotions that move Kempe, nor is his attitude towards God the same as can be found in The Book of Margery Kempe and The Wakefield Mystery Plays.
In the Wakefield plays, God wins piety through outright threats. He appears to his followers in visions, as he does in Kempe, but never as a benevolent or comforting presence. Kempe receives her only comfort in life through God's constant reassurances of her holiness in the face of the condemnation of her peers; in the Creation play, it is God who casts out Adam and Eve, just as Kempe is cast out of traveling party after traveling party. The fear of being similarly punished keeps other Wakefield characters in line. Noah begins his play with a speech detailing the mistakes of the those who have angered the Lord: "First on Earth and then in hell . . . but to those no harm befell/who trusted in his truth." And God responds: "Vengeance I will take,/ On earth for sin's sake,/My grimness thus will wake/Both great and small." (WP, 91) God promises that "All shall perish less and more that so spurned my plan." Fa...
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Works Cited and Consulted
Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe. Ed. Sanford Meech and Hope and Emily Allen. London: Oxford UP, Early English Text Society 212, 1940; rpt. 1961.
Lawton, David. "Voice, Authority, and Blasphemy in The Book of Margery Kempe." Margery Kempe: A Book of Essays. Ed. Sandra J. McEntire. New York: Garland, 1992. 93-116.
Malory, Sir Thomas. Works. Ed. Eugene Vinaver. London: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Mann, Jill. "The Narrative of Distance, the Distance of Narrative in Malory’s Morte DArthur." The William Matthews Lectures 1991 delivered at Birkbeck College, London.
Rose, Martial, ed. and trans. The Wakefield Mystery Plays. New York: Norton, 1961.