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Reading Questions for Margery Kempe's
Book of Margery Kempe
imagery, mystics, Lollard, heresy
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:
The Anchorite of N. (This is character is the same as Julian
The Widowed Anchorite of the Preaching Friars in Lynn (note
she is not the same person as the Anchorite of N.)
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
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. 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
Then he said very roughly, "Why you! . . . What do
people say about me?"
G. "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
eaten them, turning his tail toward the priest, he discharged
them out again at his rear end."