Divine Ventriloquism in Medieval English Literature studies medieval attitudes towards the human mediation of God’s and Christ’s voices and thus attends to how medieval people resignified a pagan practice. As Mary Hayes demonstrates, the ventriloquized divine voice ultimately permits an exploration of human relationships with God as well as mundane relationships between the divine voice’s designated clerical mediators and their lay audiences. This book shows that the ventriloquized divine voice became a contested site of power as priests acquired more institutional endorsement and, ironically, devotion in some ways became putatively more lay-centered. Taken together, these chapters tell a story, one of a progression from an orthodox view of divine vocal power, to an anxiety over the authority of the priest’s voice, to a subversive take on the ability of lay people not only to mimic the clerical voice but also to generate their own unique performances capable of divine communication.
“This book does two things all medievalists can be grateful for. One, it demonstrates how literary theory can prompt and inform investigations and analysis of early literature without implying, much less insisting, that these texts are post-anything. Two, it tells a story of great importance to understanding the emergence of English literature from the Middle Ages to the threshold of the Early Modern: the story of the inexorable interrogation by medieval writers of speech, language, and their sources, including especially their source in ‘belly-speech,’ that will come to mean so much in comprehending the larger story of English literature by the late 1500s, when it throws its voices to all who have ears to hear–as it does still today.”–R. Allen Shoaf, co-founding editor, EXEMPLARIA
“In this fine study, Hayes explores the theological implications of ventriloquism’s founding assumption, namely, that voice is the sign of presence. She insightfully analyzes the specific kinds of voice-throwing that characterize medieval England from talking bibles to actors performing the Last Supper—in short, an entire vocal economy of mediated speech acts.”–Valerie Allen, professor of English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY