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Study Questions for Margery Kempe's Book of Margery Kempe

Vocabulary: imagery, mystics, Lollard, heresy

Introduction: When did Margery have her first vision? How many children did Margery have? How old was Margery when she took her vow of celibacy?

Lecture or Handouts: According to medieval sumptuary laws, who were the only people that could wear white robes?

Explain who the following characters are, why they are important, and in what work they appear:

  • Margery Kempe
  • The Confessor
  • The Anchorite of N. (This is character is the same as Julian of Norwich)
  • The Widowed Anchorite of the Preaching Friars in Lynn (note she is not the same person as the Anchorite of N.)
  • The husband
  • The Archbishop of York
  • William of Southfield (The White Friar in Norwich
  • The Anchorite of the Preaching Friars in Lynn
  • The Two German Pilgrims
  • The Monk preaching at York
  • The Bear shaking the pear-tree.

Reading Questions:

  • Chapter 1: How old was Margery when she suffered a traumatic pregnancy and sickness?
  • How did the Confessor treat Margery during what she thought was her deathbed confession? What apparently happened to Margery as a result?
  • How long was Margery "out of her mind," "amazingly disturbed"" and "tormented with spirits"?
  • Describe Margery's visions during this period of torment.
  • How did Margery mutilate herself in her madness?
  • How did Margery's maids and keepers react to Margery's request to be given the keys of the buttery? How did her husband react?
  • Chapter 2: What sin manifested itself in Margery's appearance after her wits were recovered?
  • What business did Margery take up as part of a "get-rich quick" scheme? How successful was this business?
  • Chapter 3: What did Margery hear in an auditory "vision" in bed that caused her to weep and cry?
  • What change did Margery decide would take place regarding her relationship with her husband? What change in the things she wore each day? Where did she get this garment?
  • Chapter 4: What was Margery's most difficult sin that she was prone to during the first two years of her religious devotion? How is that surprising sin a sharp contrast with her nightly behavior with her husband?
  • Chapter 11: What hypothetical situation does Margery's husband propose to test how dedicated she is to her vow of celibacy?
  • What does the husband say when Margery admits she would rather see her husband die than ever have sex with him again?
  • The husband proposes that Margery grant her husband one of three desires as they walk beside a cross (1) to resume a normal sexual relationship, (2) to have Margery pay his financial debts before she takes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or (3) for Margery to stop fasting on Fridays. Which request does Margery grant him?
  • Chapter 18: What famous White Friar does Margery want to visit in Norwich? What does she want to consult with him about? What, in short, does the Friar tell her?
  • Who was Margery Kempe's primary confessor?
  • When a spiritual rivalry develops between Margery and the Anchorite of the Preaching Friars in Lynn, who writes a letter and sends it to the widowed anchorite
  • Chapter 19: Before her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Margery has a meeting with a respectable widow and the widow's confessor. What unhappy message from God does Margery deliver to this respectable widow? How does the rich widow react? Whose side does the confessor take?
  • Chapter 28: While sailing to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, what do some of the pilgrims do to make Margery's trip miserable? (list one or two of these things).
  • What two people keeps Margery from falling off her donkey outside Jerusalem when she is overcome with weeping and with visions of the heavenly city? Why does the priest start shoving "spices" (medicines) into her mouth?
  • How does Margery behave or what does she do when she comes to Calvary and sees the place of Christ's crucifixion? In her "spiritual sight" she sees the mourning of what three biblical figures?
  • When Margery sees a crucifix, or sees a man with a wound, or a beast, or sees a man beating a child, or a horse or beast hit with a whip, what does this remind her of? How does she react?
  • What holy city besides Jerusalem also causes her to have "cryings"?
  • What is the largest number of "cryings" Margery had in one day?
  • What point is Margery making at the end of our excerpt from Chapter 28 when she mentions how other people cannot stop their weeping or crying over earthly misfortunes?
  • Chapter 52: Who or what was the subject of the sermon given by the Monk preaching at York?
  • When Margery is taken to the Archbishop's chapel for her trail, what do many servants in the Archbishop's household call her? What do they swear will happen to her "with many a horrible oath"?
  • Why does the Archbishop ask Margery about her clothing? (i.e., what is inappropriate about her clothes according to medieval sumptuary laws?)
  • What is Margery's answer when the Archbishop asks her why she always weeps and shrieks so dramatically?
  • When the clerics intensely question Margery about the articles of Christian faith, what do they discover about her theological knowledge?
  • How does Margery respond when the Archbishop tells her, "I am told very bad things about you. I hear that you are very wicked woman?"
  • How does Margery respond when the Archbishop orders her to put her hand on the book and swear to leave the diocese? How does she respond when he orders her to swear not to preach?
  • What illogical conclusion do the clerics draw from Margery's ability to speak openly of the Gospels?
  • What was the "worst story . . . ever heard" about priests that Margery recounts in the courtroom? (Summarize it in one or two sentences.)
  • At the end of Margery's story, what does the horrible beast do with the fair flowers it devours when it turns around in front of the priest?
  • According to Margery's interpretation, who does the pear tree represent in her story?

Sample passages for identification:

A. "Margery, if there came a man with a sword who would strike off my head unless I made love with you as I used to do before, tell me on your conscience--for you say you will not lie--whether you would allow my head to be cut off, or else allow me to make love with you again, as I did at one time?" [. . .]

And then she said with great sorrow, "Truly, I would rather see you being killed, than that we should turn back to our uncleanness"

B. The anchoress [of Norwich], advising this creature to be obedient to the will of our Lord and fulfil with all her might whatever he put into her soul, if it were not against the worship of God and the profit of her fellow Christians. For if it were, then it were not the influence of a good spirit, but rather than evil spirit.

C: When it was time to make their beds they locked up her bedclothes, and a priest who was in her party took a sheet away from this creature, and said that it was his. She took God to witness that it was her sheet. Then the priest swore a great oath, by the book in his hand that she was as false as she might be, and despised her, and severely rebuked her. And so she had great and continual tribulation until she came to Jerusalem.

D. And she had such great compassion and such great pain to see our Lord's pain, that she could not keep herself from crying and roaring though she should have died for it. . . . The crying was so loud and so amazing that it astounded people, unless they had heard it before, or else knew the reason for the cryings. . . And sometimes, when she saw the crucifix, or if she saw a man had a wound, or a beast, whichever it were, or if a man beat a child before her or hit a horse or other beast with a whip, if she saw or heard it, she thought she saw our Lord being beaten or wounded.

E. On the next day, she was brought into the Archbishop's chapel, and many of the Archbishop's household came there scorning her, calling her "Lollard," and "heretic," and swore many a horrible oath that she should be burned.

F. At last the said Archbishop came into the chapel with his clerics, and he said to her abruptly, "Why do you go about in white clothes? Are you a virgin?"

She, kneeling before him, said, "No, sir, I am no virgin; I am a married woman.

He ordered his household to fetch a pair of fetters and said she should be fettered, for she was a false heretic, and then she said, "I am no heretic, nor shall you prove me one."

G. Then the Archbishop said to her: "I am told very bad things about you. I hear that you are a very wicked woman."

And she replied, "Sir, I also hear that you are a wicked man. And if you are as wicked as people say, you will never get to heaven, unless you amend while you are here."

Then he said very roughly, "Why you! . . . What do people say about me?"

H. "Lacking shelter, he [one priest] found a fair arbour in which he rested that night, which had a beautiful pear-tree in the middle, all covered in blossom, which he delighted to look at. To that place came a great rough bear, ugly to behold, that shook the pear-tree and caused the blossoms to fall. Greedily this horrible beast ate and devoured those fair flowers. And when he had eaten them, turning his tail toward the priest, he discharged them out again at his rear end."


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