Sound and Hearing in Middle English Literature

Ingrid Pierce, Purdue University


My dissertation argues that numerous fourteenth-century texts connect listening with ethics in a phenomenon I call “auditory poetics.” I analyze human agency surrounding the creation and reception of sound in medieval writing. As I see it, Middle English works often function as sonorous objects activated by the reader, like musical instruments that resonate when played. The texts analyzed in my dissertation—Chaucer’s House of Fame and Parliament of Fowls (Ch 1), the works of the Pearl-poet (Ch 2), Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love (Ch 3), and the anonymous Prick of Conscience (Ch 4)—are sonorous insofar as they employ literary devices such as onomatopoeia and feature auditory encounters, for instance, when the dreamer in Pearl is entranced by heavenly singing. Sound’s ability to cross physical and temporal boundaries in these texts often enables individuals to traverse spiritual landscapes. For example, the Prick of Conscience evokes the future sounds of the afterlife and, in Revelations of Divine Love, Julian is drawn to God through the sound of his voice. Ultimately, hearing in these texts integrates two strong impulses: a drive for ethical clarity and a tendency toward empathy for human experience.^




Robyn Malo, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|British & Irish literature

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server