To what extent did medieval English literature provide a space for the public voicing of social, political or religious dissent?
During the fourteenth century, the Church occupied a central position in medievalEnglish society. That society was deeply influenced by religion and in the literature of the period, writers attempted to engage with religious issues. Of course it would be naive “toassume that the masses of people, especially those who lacked a formal education or were inthe lower echelons of society, were naive, superstitious, and unquestioning in their faith”(Rhodes 81). Writers like Geoffrey Chaucer gave the masses a platform from which to publicly voice their religious dissent but
The Canterbury Tales
are not absolutely critical of religion. Without doubt Chaucer is a deeply ambiguous writer, both praising and condemningreligion in his work. This scholar believes that such a reality is reflected in “The Prioress’sPrologue and Tale” and in “The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale” in the following ways; thePrioress’s affective piety, anti-Semitism and Marian cult; the Pardoner’s representation, possible homosexuality and inversion of the sacraments; and finally, the tellers’ critique of the contemporary Church.The Prioress’s affective piety was typical of the fourteenth century. As Rhodes writes,“The impetus behind this devotion was the belief that to suffer with Christ was a means toaffective union with Christ, and that the religious elements found in faith can be experienceddirectly, without a priest as intermediary” (89). Affective piety was popular amongst the laityand encouraged by the Church. At a first glance at her tale, it may seem that the Prioress issimply upholding a religious practice without criticising the Church. Yet she identifies herself “as a child of twelf month oold, or lesse” (VII.484), thus identifying herself with the boy-martyr of her tale. She shares in his similarities to Christ: a widow’s son, killed by the Jewswhich was part of Church teaching then and his Christ-like death-“he yaf up the goost fulsoftely” (VII.672). The Prioress empathises with Christ’s sufferings as evidenced in her