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Miserere Mei

Miserere Mei

The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England

Clare Costley King’oo

In Miserere Mei, Clare Costley King’oo examines the critical importance of the Penitential Psalms in England between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. During this period, the Penitential Psalms inspired an enormous amount of creative and intellectual work: in addition to being copied and illustrated in Books of Hours and other prayer books, they were expounded in commentaries, imitated in vernacular translations and paraphrases, rendered into lyric poetry, and even modified for singing. Miserere Mei explores these numerous transformations in materiality and genre. Combining the resources of close literary analysis with those of the history of the book, it reveals not only that the Penitential Psalms lay at the heart of Reformation-age debates over the nature of repentance, but also, and more significantly, that they constituted a site of theological, political, artistic, and poetic engagement across the many polarities that are often said to separate late medieval from early modern culture.

Miserere Mei features twenty-five illustrations and provides new analyses of works based on the Penitential Psalms by several key writers of the time, including Richard Maidstone, Thomas Brampton, John Fisher, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Gascoigne, Sir John Harington, and Richard Verstegan. It will be of value to anyone interested in the interpretation, adaptation, and appropriation of biblical literature; the development of religious plurality in the West; the emergence of modernity; and the periodization of Western culture. Students and scholars in the fields of literature, religion, history, art history, and the history of material texts will find Miserere Mei particularly instructive and compelling.

“Seldom have I read a first book of such subtlety and sustained by such learning, particularly welcome for the way it so easily and gracefully crosses the artificial barriers we raise between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This is an original and often touching study of biblical materials that have seen a surge of interest. Those interested in the Psalms, in art history, in David, in translation, to say nothing of early modern sexuality, should rush to read it.” — Anne Lake Prescott, Barnard College and Columbia University

“This is interdisciplinary scholarship of a high order: King’oo successfully approaches the Penitential Psalms through the avenues of manuscript and print illustration, theological commentary, verse paraphrase, lyric poetry, political polemic, and devotional song. In the process, she shows how penance—and its conversion to Protestant repentance—is at the heart of early modern debates about authentic Christian doctrine and experience. And King’oo reminds us that while we may imagine bright lines of before and after the Reformation, the lived reality involved plenty of surprising hybrids and bridging forms along the way.” — Christopher Hodgkins, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

“This excellent study traces the cultural trajectory of the seven Penitential Psalms in England from the late medieval period to the beginning of the seventeenth century. It provides essential historical background on the emergence of this group of psalms as a cultural unit bound up with repentance, and its five chapters eloquently discuss how individuals and communities engaged with these psalms for diverse religious, social, political, and artistic purposes. By focusing on late medieval, early modern, Catholic, and Protestant responses to the psalms (including those by Fisher, Luther, Wyatt, Stubbs, Harington, and Verstegan), King’oo draws our attention to previously overlooked instances of cultural continuity, adaptation, revision, and parody.” — Micheline White, Carleton University

ISBN: 978-0-268-03324-8
312 pages
Publication Year: 2012

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Clare Costley King’oo is associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut.

“King’oo provides a careful and multi-disciplinary history of this group of psalms during the years before and following the English Reformation. . . . Using tools from the scholarship of history, art, literature, and theology, King’oo has written a fascinating study. With its superb scholarship and carefully reasoned arguments, this book is recommended for academic libraries supporting graduate programs.” — Catholic Library World

“The discovery of continuities amidst the upheaval of the Reformation has been a major area of scholarship in recent years and King’oo ably demonstrates that the Penitential psalms form yet another example of the way in which ‘the religious literature of the pre-Reformed past was not cast aside but rather gradually and complexly reshaped in Reformation England.’” — Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“The interdisciplinary approach used by Costley King’oo is one of the book’s great strengths: we study manuscripts, early printed works and illustrations; Bible commentary, paraphrase and translation; lyric poetry, political parody and devotional song. . . . [This book] will have a broad appeal to scholars of the Bible (and the psalms in particular), scholars of art history and religious history, literary scholars and those interested in early modern sexuality.” — The History of Women Religious

“King’oo lays out a concentrated argument for the centrality of the Penitential Psalms and what she calls a ‘penitential hermeneutic’ in both late medieval and early modern culture. . . . The monograph makes a solid case for the need for further study in this area.” —_The Medieval Review_

“A fascinating and impressively composed monograph. . . . King’oo’s study is at its finest and most compelling in her analysis of individual adaptations of the Penitential Psalms, where close reading merges richly with attention to historical context and textual details.” — Comitatus

“King’oo is especially perceptive in her attention to textual and literary detail, and she offers many valuable insights into the dynamic life of old traditions carried through time. Read as a whole or as selected essays, this book gives helpful case studies for those looking for a highly nuanced understanding of the continuities and discontinuities between the late medieval and early modern uses of biblical texts.” — Religious Studies Review

“King’oo’s study distinguishes itself among other excellent scholarly works on the Psalter for its carefully considered focus on the unique textual tradition of the Seven Penitential Psalms. . . . Given King’oo’s training as a literary scholar, her attention to the Penitential Psalms’ form, genre, language, and even the material texts in which they were available yields exciting interpretations of their nuanced revisions and their implied audiences.” — Church History

“Miserere Mei convincingly and originally answers a number of the questions raised by the use and persistence of these Psalms, and offers new ones that we didn’t know enough to ask previously. . . . The greatest strengths of the book may be the ostensible narrowness and concreteness of its focus. By limiting her attention to the penitential Psalms, King’oo has written a monograph that is unusually coherent and organic, given the span of time and range of genres covered.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“Her writing is clear and engaging and stylistically sophisticated. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-researched book whose focus, although seemingly narrow, sheds much light on the some of the central controversies of the early modern period.” — Speculum

“The book offers itself both as a valuable cultural history of the penitential psalms and as a model for rethinking outdated yet still dominant modes of historical periodization.” — Modern Language Review

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Edited by Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou

Miserere Mei

The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England

Clare Costley King’oo

 Miserere Mei: The Penitential Psalms in Late Medieval and Early Modern England
Paper Edition

In Miserere Mei, Clare Costley King’oo examines the critical importance of the Penitential Psalms in England between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century. During this period, the Penitential Psalms inspired an enormous amount of creative and intellectual work: in addition to being copied and illustrated in Books of Hours and other prayer books, they were expounded in commentaries, imitated in vernacular translations and paraphrases, rendered into lyric poetry, and even modified for singing. Miserere Mei explores these numerous transformations in materiality and genre. Combining the resources of close literary analysis with those of the history of the book, it reveals not only that the Penitential Psalms lay at the heart of Reformation-age debates over the nature of repentance, but also, and more significantly, that they constituted a site of theological, political, artistic, and poetic engagement across the many polarities that are often said to separate late medieval from early modern culture.

Miserere Mei features twenty-five illustrations and provides new analyses of works based on the Penitential Psalms by several key writers of the time, including Richard Maidstone, Thomas Brampton, John Fisher, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Gascoigne, Sir John Harington, and Richard Verstegan. It will be of value to anyone interested in the interpretation, adaptation, and appropriation of biblical literature; the development of religious plurality in the West; the emergence of modernity; and the periodization of Western culture. Students and scholars in the fields of literature, religion, history, art history, and the history of material texts will find Miserere Mei particularly instructive and compelling.

“Seldom have I read a first book of such subtlety and sustained by such learning, particularly welcome for the way it so easily and gracefully crosses the artificial barriers we raise between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This is an original and often touching study of biblical materials that have seen a surge of interest. Those interested in the Psalms, in art history, in David, in translation, to say nothing of early modern sexuality, should rush to read it.” — Anne Lake Prescott, Barnard College and Columbia University

“This is interdisciplinary scholarship of a high order: King’oo successfully approaches the Penitential Psalms through the avenues of manuscript and print illustration, theological commentary, verse paraphrase, lyric poetry, political polemic, and devotional song. In the process, she shows how penance—and its conversion to Protestant repentance—is at the heart of early modern debates about authentic Christian doctrine and experience. And King’oo reminds us that while we may imagine bright lines of before and after the Reformation, the lived reality involved plenty of surprising hybrids and bridging forms along the way.” — Christopher Hodgkins, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

“This excellent study traces the cultural trajectory of the seven Penitential Psalms in England from the late medieval period to the beginning of the seventeenth century. It provides essential historical background on the emergence of this group of psalms as a cultural unit bound up with repentance, and its five chapters eloquently discuss how individuals and communities engaged with these psalms for diverse religious, social, political, and artistic purposes. By focusing on late medieval, early modern, Catholic, and Protestant responses to the psalms (including those by Fisher, Luther, Wyatt, Stubbs, Harington, and Verstegan), King’oo draws our attention to previously overlooked instances of cultural continuity, adaptation, revision, and parody.” — Micheline White, Carleton University

ISBN: 978-0-268-03324-8

312 pages

“King’oo provides a careful and multi-disciplinary history of this group of psalms during the years before and following the English Reformation. . . . Using tools from the scholarship of history, art, literature, and theology, King’oo has written a fascinating study. With its superb scholarship and carefully reasoned arguments, this book is recommended for academic libraries supporting graduate programs.” — Catholic Library World

“The discovery of continuities amidst the upheaval of the Reformation has been a major area of scholarship in recent years and King’oo ably demonstrates that the Penitential psalms form yet another example of the way in which ‘the religious literature of the pre-Reformed past was not cast aside but rather gradually and complexly reshaped in Reformation England.’” — Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“The interdisciplinary approach used by Costley King’oo is one of the book’s great strengths: we study manuscripts, early printed works and illustrations; Bible commentary, paraphrase and translation; lyric poetry, political parody and devotional song. . . . [This book] will have a broad appeal to scholars of the Bible (and the psalms in particular), scholars of art history and religious history, literary scholars and those interested in early modern sexuality.” — The History of Women Religious

“King’oo lays out a concentrated argument for the centrality of the Penitential Psalms and what she calls a ‘penitential hermeneutic’ in both late medieval and early modern culture. . . . The monograph makes a solid case for the need for further study in this area.” —_The Medieval Review_

“A fascinating and impressively composed monograph. . . . King’oo’s study is at its finest and most compelling in her analysis of individual adaptations of the Penitential Psalms, where close reading merges richly with attention to historical context and textual details.” — Comitatus

“King’oo is especially perceptive in her attention to textual and literary detail, and she offers many valuable insights into the dynamic life of old traditions carried through time. Read as a whole or as selected essays, this book gives helpful case studies for those looking for a highly nuanced understanding of the continuities and discontinuities between the late medieval and early modern uses of biblical texts.” — Religious Studies Review

“King’oo’s study distinguishes itself among other excellent scholarly works on the Psalter for its carefully considered focus on the unique textual tradition of the Seven Penitential Psalms. . . . Given King’oo’s training as a literary scholar, her attention to the Penitential Psalms’ form, genre, language, and even the material texts in which they were available yields exciting interpretations of their nuanced revisions and their implied audiences.” — Church History

“Miserere Mei convincingly and originally answers a number of the questions raised by the use and persistence of these Psalms, and offers new ones that we didn’t know enough to ask previously. . . . The greatest strengths of the book may be the ostensible narrowness and concreteness of its focus. By limiting her attention to the penitential Psalms, King’oo has written a monograph that is unusually coherent and organic, given the span of time and range of genres covered.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“Her writing is clear and engaging and stylistically sophisticated. This is a thoroughly enjoyable and well-researched book whose focus, although seemingly narrow, sheds much light on the some of the central controversies of the early modern period.” — Speculum

“The book offers itself both as a valuable cultural history of the penitential psalms and as a model for rethinking outdated yet still dominant modes of historical periodization.” — Modern Language Review

ReFormations: Medieval and Early Modern

Winner, 2012 Book of the Year award from The Conference on Christianity and Literature