Censorship and Intolerance in Medieval England
By Richard Obenauf
PhD Dissertation, Loyola University Chicago, 2015
Abstract: Censorship is difficult to prove conclusively in the Middle Ages because manuscript culture is susceptible to the destruction of evidence, namely by burning works deemed unacceptable. Moreover, medieval authors were subject to many forms of intolerance which shaped their literary decisions.
This dissertation proposes that the roots of formal print censorship in England are to be found in earlier forms of intolerance which sought to enforce conformity and that censorship is not distinct from intolerance, but rather is another form of intolerance. I draw on political writings by Peter Abelard, John of Salisbury, and William of Ockham to establish a model of intolerance, which I then test against a variety of vernacular works, including “Lanval” by Marie de France, the “Parlement of Foules” by Geoffrey Chaucer, the anonymous anti-Wycliffite satire “Defend us from all Lollardry,” and the late medieval morality play “Mankind.”
I use Michael Walzer’s five-point scale of toleration in conjunction with John Christian Laursen’s simplified scale to compare varying degrees of tolerance and intolerance in literary works written before the age of print.
Top Image: Parlement of Foules – British Library MS Harley 7333