ABSTRACT

Scholars have noted the dependence of The Book of Margery Kempe on defamation, or slander, as a tool of establishing the metaphorical, if not literal, martyrdom of its titular figure. Few, however, have investigated the historical situation of legal cases and penalties for public slanderous speech. Viewing Margery's Book in light of court records of legal charges of slander, as well as public knowledge of slander as demonstrated in mystery plays and public announcements at parish churches, makes it clear that the Book employs common knowledge of legal proceedings related to slander to establish Margery's willingness to undergo her public humiliation for devotional purposes. The “negative context” of slander—“negative” because legal recourse to clear Margery's name is not mentioned in the Book, seemingly intentionally—provides evidence of Margery using public, secular institutions to advance her status as a mystic.

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