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Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership - Student Profiles



I read English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge before studying for the interdisciplinary MSt in Medieval Studies run by the History Faculty at Oxford. I am happy to be returning to Cambridge for my doctorate and to a text which has interested me for some time. When I first encountered Piers Plowman, I found the poem imposing: a seemingly impenetrable macaronic allegory which asked more questions than it answered; a work famously described by Morton Bloomfield as ‘a commentary on an unwritten text’.

Years later, this impression has not diminished but the difficulties I once found obtrusive now create an enduring fascination. Piers Plowman does not offer easy answers because there were never any to be had: Bloomfield’s ‘unwritten text’ is life itself. Faced by uncertainty and falsehood at every turn, Langland shows how truth can still emerge from broken people and compromised faculties in a sinful world. Langland’s unorthodox education and peculiar genius drive this tendency to complicate but not dismiss, he brings forgotten debates to the surface and questions conclusions which the manualists of his day take for granted.

My current research looks at how medieval thought on creation places God at the heart of everything we see and do. I am interested in how literary techniques like allegory and analogy, central to Piers Plowman, feature in scholastic discussions of how we might describe God in earthly language; particularly within the tradition of commentators on Pseudo-Dionysius. From this linguistic aporia comes St Thomas’ analogy of being, which radically alters medieval metaphysics and ontology. My work also considers how the great variety of creative acts performed by humans were understood in relation to God’s all-encompassing creative act. Accordingly, I hope to reassess some of the important metafictional dimensions to medieval poetry from a theological perspective. 


Key publications: 

McKee, Conor, ‘Pedagogic and Dramatic Roles of the Liturgy in Piers Plowman’, The Cambridge Quarterly, 45:4 (2016), 343-364

Department: English
Supervisors: Prof Nicolette Zeeman, Prof John Marenbon
College: Pembroke
AHRC subject area: Language and Literature
Title of thesis: Piers Plowman and Scholastic Creation Theology
Mr Conor  McKee