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date: 07 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Authority can refer to a person, a quality that one possesses, a governing institution a text containing crucial information or founding principles, or a exemplary event. In other words, authority is never properly one thing. An integral part of authority is recognition, insofar as the signs of power or status are encoded or displayed. During the medieval period, authority was an important subject for writers. In medieval theories of authorship, authorship was consistently identified with authority. Modern critics of medieval literature consider authority to be perhaps the most persuasive connection between art and context. This article examines authority, with emphasis on textual authority and how it extends the purview of medievalist literary criticism, in part by historicizing textual production. It also discusses the use of textual authority by both medievals and medievalists to understand literary innovation. In addition, it analyzes two sets of texts that offer complex investigations into the nature of lordship: the fifteenth-century biblical cycle plays and William Langland’s alliterative poem Piers Plowman.

Keywords: authority, medieval period, authorship, medieval literature, textual authority, textual production, lordship, biblical cycle plays, William Langland, Piers Plowman

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