By James Robert Knowles
PhD Dissertation, Duke University, 2009
Abstract: This dissertation explores the complex vocabularies of service and servitude in the Age of Chaucer. Working with three major Middle English texts–William Langland’s Piers Plowman (chaps. 1 and 3), Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Love (chap. 2), and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (chap. 4)–my thesis argues that the languages of service available to these writers provided them with a rich set of metaphorical tools for expressing the relation between metaphysics and social practice.
For late medieval English culture, the word “service” was an all-encompassing marker used to describe relations between individuals and their loved ones, their neighbors, their church, their God, and their institutions of government. In the field of Middle English studies, these categories have too often been held apart from one another and the language of service has too often been understood as drawing its meanings solely from legal and economic discourses, the purview of social historians.
Love, Labor, Liturgy sets out to correct this underanalysis by pointing to a diverse tradition of theological and philosophical thought concerning the possibilities and paradoxes of Christian service, a tradition ranging from Saint Augustine to Martin Luther and beyond.