In Passus B XIII (B) of Piers Plowman, Patience sets the Doctor of Divinity a riddle relying on the grammatical idea of transitivity (‘ex vi transicionis’). This paper will look at transitivity (the action of a verb upon its object) as both a grammatical and theological idea in Piers Plowman. I will focus on Patience’s riddle in Passus B XIII as a moment where the relationship between the act of knowing (verb) and the object of knowledge (object) are re-configured through Langland’s riddling play with the theological possibilities of Patience’s root deponent verb: ‘patior’. The result is a new conception in the poem of the objects of spiritual pursuit.
This paper argues that the Tale of Beryn can be read exemplarily by showing how merchants might recognize criminal intent in their dealings with others. My argument focuses on chere, a word semantically sophisticated enough to describe the cognitive and behavioral range of mens rea. Through its narrative association with criminal intent, chere ultimately contributes to our cultural understanding of medieval psychology as well as the construction of the medieval subject. Legal records reveal that mens rea was often determined circumstantially. In contrast, the pseudo-aristotelian Secretum Secretorum, provides guidelines for reading someone’s intent in physiognomy. To obtain a more nuanced narrative of intent in late Medieval England, new insights can be gained about mens rea by placing literature in dialogue with criminal law and medieval psychology (especially after the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West). When one additionally draws on accounts of vision (e.g. Denery II 2005), performance (e.g. Crane 2002), and body language (e.g. Burrow 2002), one becomes aware of the cultural limitations of reading intent.
Lollardy expresses a belief that cultural change is achieved through acts of self-awareness and self-assertion. This self-same position more recently has been argued by19th-century social theorists such as Michel de Certeau to be the means by which subordinate classes use discourse to enact cultural change, utilizing ‘innumerable and infinitesimal transformations within the dominant cultural economy’. Lollards argue for this same social potential within the individual, prescribing resistance to the dominant social order through individual acts of ethical expression.