Staging Contemplation: Participatory Theology in Middle English Prose, Verse, and Drama

By Eleanor Johnson

In the Middle Ages, more than merely thinking with intensity, contemplation was a religious practice entailing utter receptiveness to the divine presence. Scholars today generally consider it to have been the highest form of devotional prayer, practiced only by the most devout monks, nuns, and mystics. Eleanor Johnson, associate professor of English and comparative literature, argues instead for the pervasiveness and accessibility of contemplative works to medieval audiences. She paints late Middle English contemplative writing as a broad genre that operated collectively and experientially and traces how it played a crucial role in the exploration of the English vernacular as a literary and theological language in the 15th century.