Date of Award

Fall 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bodden, M. C.

Second Advisor

Curran, John

Third Advisor

Sorby, Angela


Apocalypticism, defined by expectation of an imminent End, assumes many forms and proves influential in the second half of the Fourteenth Century in England. Throughout my study, I demonstrate that a rich apocalyptic environment emerges in works of the period, including those of Chaucer, Gower, Langland, and the Pearl-poet. In this period, apocalypticism has provided explanations for plague, narratives that make evil more vivid, and arguments for urgent action. It gives contemporary phenomena special meaning. My study is organized around conspicuous centers of meaning that work reciprocally with the apocalyptic, simultaneously defining the End and defined by it. First, I center on death, which as a theological "last thing" in itself necessarily shares a sense of anxiety with the apocalypse. In connection with both death and apocalypse, fear and hope are often invoked. And as forms of death are tied to the apocalyptic, this means that data from the late-medieval world are used to tell a vivid story with implications for the future of daily life. My second chapter deals with how the meaning of the apocalyptic is interrelated with ecclesiastical authority. In an apocalyptic context, authority delineates not only power but also the important matters of good and evil. In this period in which notions of power and evil are intensely debated, apocalypticism proves adaptable to different circumstances and different perspectives while still remaining grounded in predictive ancient prophecy. Third, I maintain that the period's still-developing practices of confession (which claim to regulate all human activity) are given a special urgency by the sense of impending doom. Then I close my study with an examination of how writing embodies a curious tension with the apocalyptic in mind: writing is confined to time, but it also must serve as a witness to eternal matters. The apocalypse, while it argues for ephemerality of earthly things, requires a qualified permanence of texts that spread its explanations and stories. Overall, I maintain that the richness and variety of apocalyptic meaning in this period is best understood through the apocalyptic's interaction with key cultural terms, including mortality, authority, confession, and textual permanence.