Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Wilcox, Jonathan

First Committee Member

Lavezzo, Kathy

Second Committee Member

Greteman, Blaine

Third Committee Member

Severino, Carol

Fourth Committee Member

Adams, Bluford


This project considers profane moments in three Middle English texts which use an incongruous combination of religious elements and exaggerated misbehavior to entertain the reader, as well as to critique, question, or mock established values and their all-too-human representatives. Each text draws its form from popular, entertaining genres, yet inserts learned and pious elements. The resulting collisions of cultural registers including high and low, sacred and profane, create ludic and layered explorations of those categories. In each text, undercurrents of incongruity and inversion blur, invert, or exaggerate the shocking or entertaining effect of bad behavior. I read this combination of contrasting influences as a carnivalesque and at times subversive form of social commentary, and suggest that both the popularity and the religiosity of each text are key to its provocative incongruity.

In addition to the transgressive elements that knowingly elicit a strong audience reaction, each text has its unintentionally offensive aspects— passages likely be read differently by readers today than in the fourteenth century. In each chapter, I consider some of the pedagogical challenges and opportunities afforded by not only aesthetically but ideologically shocking elements, and the tensions these moments stand to expose in both their medieval context and the contemporary literature classroom. My approach combines cultural studies and pedagogy to ask how abstract hierarchies of low and high, profane and sacred, can be explored through the use of these entertaining, yet challenging, texts in a college classroom setting, using moments of exaggerated transgression to generate practical approaches to discussion with students.


v, 186 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 175-186).


Copyright © 2018 Bethany Smith

Available for download on Sunday, January 31, 2021