chapter  13
17 Pages

Disabled devotion

Original sin and universal disability in the Prik of Conscience
WithSamantha Katz Seal

This chapter challenges the idea that marginality is an exception to the rule of centrality. In the Prik of Conscience, a fourteenth-century Middle English devotional poem, the author portrays bodily fragility as a universal human condition acquired from Adam and Eve through their rebellion, and passed on to their descendants: the entirety of the human race. For the author of the Prik of Conscience, human impairment represented not only a degradation of the body but also a breakdown of prelapsarian hierarchies established by God in the creation. By turning away from God in the Garden of Eden, humans collapsed divinely ordained social rankings by becoming equal to one another in sinfulness. Further, humans unnaturally debased themselves below animals, who never waivered in their loyalty to God. Thus, for the poet, the imperfection of the human form was a constant reminder that all of humanity occupied the margins of God’s creation.