UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Visions : the extraordinary life of Margery Kempe Goddard-Rebstein, Rachael Jane


My thesis project is an adaptation of The Book of Margery Kempe into the form of a play. Considered to be the first autobiography in English, The Book of Margery Kempe tells the story of Margery Kempe, a fourteenth century woman who experienced visions of God, Jesus and the Devil and who became famous in England as a religious mystic. Her visions inspired her to travel alone throughout England, Europe and the Middle East and meet with some of the most powerful religious figures of her time. She inspired controversy through weeping copiously during religious ceremonies and speaking publicly of her visions and was put on trial at York, Cawood and Leicester for heresy. Margery Kempe recorded her experiences in the form of a book with the aid of a priest, as she was illiterate. Her book is one of the few existing examples of medieval women’s writing, and provides a unique insight into the treatment of individuals who experienced visions during the medieval era. My play examines how the tradition of female mystical piety influenced Margery Kempe’s interpretation of her visions, and how her experience relates to that of individuals today who are diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, temporal lobe epilepsy, postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression. In considering the latter, through the support of my supervisory committee member Dr. Todd Handy, I have read scholarly work from the fields of neuroscience and psychology. My play does not seek to diagnose Margery Kempe from the perspective of neuroscience and psychology, but rather to imagine how her experience of having visions might relate to that of individuals who are diagnosed with psychiatric and neurological conditions that are associated with hallucinations today. My play juxtaposes modern psychological perspectives on the phenomenon of hallucinations with medieval Christian beliefs regarding visions to demonstrate how cultural attitudes affect the treatment and perception of symptoms associated with madness, and how Margery Kempe coped with experiencing visions that set her apart from the rest of her community.

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