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Betwixt «engelaunde» and «englene londe»

Dialogic Poetics in Early English Religious Lyric


Barbara Kowalik

This study explores the somewhat neglected area of dramatic genres of early English religious lyric and illuminates the functions of dialogue as an instrument of devotion and cognition in the context of medieval culture. The book focuses on short poems in dialogue form, semi-dialogic prayers and dramatic monologues, and alleged dialogic configurations of the lyrics, stressing their potential for performance. Devotional dialogues, as between Jesus and Mary, are shown to have the form of mutual begging, in accordance with the central medieval ritual of supplication. Dialogue as heteroglossia provides the basis for readings of selected prayers from Cædmon to Lydgate, highlighting a variety of cultural transactions involved in addressing heaven. Tracing the ways the poems overcome the limits of language in search of transcendent communication leads to insights into vernacular poetics and theology inherent in early English religious verse.