Middle English religious literature
A good deal of Middle English prose is religious. The "Ancren Riwle” teaches
proper rules of life for religious women- how they ought to dress, what work
they may do, when they ought not to speak, and so on. It was probably written
in the 13th century.
Another work, "The Form of Perfect Living”, was written by Richard Role with the same sort of aim.
His prose style has been highly praised, and the work is important in the
history of prose.
John Wycliffe, a priest, attacked many
of the religious ideas of his time. He was at Oxford, but had to leave because his attacks
on the Church could no longer be borne. One of his beliefs was that anyone who
wanted to read the Bible ought to be allowed to do so: but how could this be
done by uneducated people when the Bible was in Latin? Some parts had indeed
been put into Old English long ago, but Wycliffe
arranged the production of the whole Bible in English. He himself translated
part of it. There where 2 translations (1382 and 1388), of which the second is the
It is surprising that Wycliffe
was not burnt alive for his attacks on religious practices. After he was dead
and buried, his bones were dug up again and thrown into the stream which flows
into the River Avon (which itself flows into the River Severn):
The Avon to
the Severn runs,
The Severn to the sea,
Wycliffe”s dust shall spread abroad,
Wide as the
The first English plays told religious stories and were performed in or
near the churches. Many events of religious history were suitable subjects for
drama. These early plays, called Miracle or Mystery Plays, had various
subjects: the disobedience of Adam and Eve, Noah and the great flood, events of
the life of Christ, and so on.