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Miserere Mei

The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England

Clare Costley King'oo

Publication Year: 2012

In Miserere Mei, Clare Costley King'oo examines the critical importance of the Penitential Psalms in England between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. During this period, the Penitential Psalms inspired an enormous amount of creative and intellectual work: in addition to being copied and illustrated in Books of Hours and other prayer books, they were expounded in commentaries, imitated in vernacular translations and paraphrases, rendered into lyric poetry, and even modified for singing. Miserere Mei explores these numerous transformations in materiality and genre. Combining the resources of close literary analysis with those of the history of the book, it reveals not only that the Penitential Psalms lay at the heart of Reformation-age debates over the nature of repentance, but also, and more significantly, that they constituted a site of theological, political, artistic, and poetic engagementacross the many polarities that are often said to separate late medieval from early modern culture.

Miserere Mei features twenty-five illustrations and provides new analyses of works based on the Penitential Psalms by several key writers of the time, including Richard Maidstone, Thomas Brampton, John Fisher, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Gascoigne, Sir John Harington, and Richard Verstegan. It will be of value to anyone interested in the interpretation, adaptation, and appropriation of biblical literature; the development of religious plurality in the West; the emergence of modernity; and the periodization of Western culture. Students and scholars in the fields of literature, religion, history, art history, and the history of material texts will find Miserere Mei particularly instructive and compelling.
"Seldom have I read a first book of such subtlety and sustained by such learning, particularly welcome for the way it so easily and gracefully crosses the artificial barriers we raise between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This is an original and often touching study of biblical materials that have seen a surge of interest. Those interested in the Psalms, in art history, in David, in translation, to say nothing of early modern sexuality, should rush to read it." —Anne Lake Prescott, Barnard College and Columbia University

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xiv

Other Conventions

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xx

I could not have completed this study without the generous support of my home institution, the University of Connecticut. I am especially grateful to the University of Connecticut English Department for granting me a semester of research leave in the fall of 2009. ...

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Introduction: The Seven Penitential Psalms

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pp. 1-24

This book charts the rich and, at times, tumultuous history of the seven Penitential Psalms in England in the late medieval and early modern era. During this period, the Penitential Psalms inspired an enormous amount of creative and intellectual work: in addition to being copied and illustrated in Books of Hours and other prayer books, ...

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Chapter One: Illustrating the Penitential Psalms

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pp. 25-62

From the time of Cassiodorus up to (and in many cases beyond) the Reformation, the Penitential Psalms were considered, by the religious and the lay alike, to constitute a particularly effective, and particularly comforting, set of supplications. These psalms were hailed not only as “the seven weapons wherewith to oppose the seven deadly sins” ...

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Chapter Two: The Conflict over Penance

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pp. 63-94

On May 24, 1530, an assembly of clerics and learned university men convened at the edict of Henry VIII to pass judgment on several religious works deemed suspect by the king. Led by William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, and Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham, this gathering condemned as heretical seven books, ...

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Chapter Three: Plotting Reform

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pp. 95-128

In January 1541 Edmund Bonner, bishop of London, charged Sir Thomas Wyatt with treason, reviving an accusation that he had first made against the courtier three years previously.1 Bonner’s chief allegation was that, while serving as Henry VIII’s ambassador to the Spanish court of the Holy Roman Emperor, ...

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Chapter Four: From Penance to Politics

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pp. 129-156

In his paraphrase of the Penitential Psalms, Sir Thomas Wyatt effects a certain fictionalization of the seven texts, translating and adapting a prologue sequence by Pietro Aretino that sets the psalms’ composition within the biblical story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the related murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. ...

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Chapter Five: Parody and Piety

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pp. 157-186

This final chapter begins with an observation: while the central liturgical text of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer (first issued under Edward VI in 1549), prescribed the reading of the whole Psalter once per month, it did not make use of, or even refer to, the Penitential Psalms as a group. ...

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Afterword: A Brief Reflection on Discipline and Method

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pp. 187-192

This study has a long history of its own. In fact, the seeds of the project were sown more than a decade ago, when, as a beginning graduate student in the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania, I took a course with Margreta de Grazia on the materiality of language in the age of Shakespeare. ...

Appendix: John Harington of Stepney and Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Penitential Psalms

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pp. 193-198


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pp. 199-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-266


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pp. 267-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780268084615
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268033248

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012