Theses Doctoral

The Literary Lives of Intention in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century England

Smith, Kathleen M.

This dissertation examines the concept of intention and its relationship to the idea of the moral self in late medieval England. Late medieval English writers often identified intention, as opposed to action, as the site of moral identity. Drawing on medieval legal distinctions between intended and unintended wrongdoings, penitential and confessional definitions of sin as intention (as opposed to sinful action), this dissertation traces the development of intention-based concepts of the moral self in English chronicles, parliamentary legislation and petitions related to the Rising of 1381, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, The Testimony of William Thorpe, and The Book of Margery Kempe;. These texts employed contemporary notions of intention to represent interiority and to establish morally coherent narratives. Late fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century writers, however, not only draw on contemporary discussions of morality but also reshape them, applying theories of intention but nuancing and transforming them in the process. These discussions of intention inform our understanding the late medieval notion of the subject.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Crane, Susan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 16, 2013