Producing Knowledge in the Middle English Mystery Plays
CUSHMAN-DISSERTATION-2019.pdf (821.1Kb)(embargoed until: 2027-03-01)
MetadataShow full item record
CitationCushman, Helen. 2019. Producing Knowledge in the Middle English Mystery Plays. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractWhat is knowledge? Is it something that exists independently of agents—something simply waiting to be uncovered by the proper technique or tool? Or is it something produced by agents in the very act of knowing? If so, is knowledge made or produced by those few who are already “in the know,” so to speak, or is the production of knowledge an activity available to anyone regardless of her social situation?
Producing Knowledge in the Middle English Mystery Plays responds to these questions by examining a cultural phenomenon of knowledge production that was radical in its inclusivity. It focuses on theories of knowledge in the group of English biblical dramas known collectively as the “mystery plays.” These plays, which were organized and performed by medieval craft guilds, reenacted biblical and para-biblical stories, and they had, arguably, the broadest and most diverse public of any English writing in Middle English during the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In their combination of clerical and lay modes of knowing, the plays stress that all knowledge is “crafted”— that it is the product of many hands working together in both academic and artisanal contexts. By staging the crafting of knowledge before the eyes of their audiences, the plays thus empowered lay people to participate in the process of knowledge production, to re-envision received theological knowledge, and, most importantly, to restructure the forms of discourse that produce and disseminate knowledge.
The project situates the plays in the context of philosophical and theological debates concerning epistemology and clerical authority, literary and artistic culture, and religious controversy from the late fourteenth to the sixteenth century. More importantly, it shows how late medieval dramatic performances not only responded to these philosophical debates, but also actively theorized and re-conceptualized the available forms of philosophical inquiry that structured these debates. Rather than seeing dramatized debates as a kind of watered-down appropriation of Latin learning for distribution to a popular audience, Producing Knowledge shows how these instances of popular engagement with that learning was productive and innovative.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121313
- FAS Theses and Dissertations