Piers Plowman

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CONTENT

Abstract..........................................................................................2 Introduction....................................................................................3 History of the title...........................................................................4 Editorial, publication and reception history....................................7 Concluding remarks.....................................................................12 References..................................................................................13

Abstract

Piers Plowman or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is the title of a Middle English allegorical narrative poem by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus". Piers is considered by many critics to be one of the early great works of English literature along with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the Middle Ages. The poem- part theological allegory, part social satire- concerns the narrator's intense quest for the true Christian life, from the perspective of mediaval Catholicism. This quest entails a series of dream-visions and an examination into the lives of three allegorical characters, Dowel ("Do-Well"), Dobet ("Do-Better"), and Dobest ("Do-Best").

Key words
1. Middle English poem
2. Allegorical narrative poem
3. Early great work

Introduction

The poem begins in the Malvern Hills in Malvern, Worcestershire. A man named Will falls asleep and has a vision of a tower set upon a hill and a fortress in a deep valley; between these symbols of heaven and hell is a "fair field full of folk", representing the world of mankind. In the early part of the poem Piers, the humble plowman of the title, appears and offers himself as the narrator's guide to Truth. The latter part of the work, however, is concerned with the narrator's search for Dowel, Dobet and Dobest. It is now commonly accepted that Piers Plowman was written by William Langland, about whom little is known. This attribution of the poem to Langland rests principally on the evidence of an early-fifteenth-century manuscript of the C-text of Piers held at Trinity College, Dublin, which ascribes the work to one man called, 'Willielmus de Langlond'. Other manuscripts also name the author as "Robert or William Langland", or "Wilhelmus W", which could be shorthand for "William of Wychwood". The attribution to William Langland is also based on internal evidence, primarily a seemingly autobiographical section in Passus 5 of the C-text of the poem. The main narrator of the poem in all the versions is named Will, with allegorical resonances clearly intended, and Langland is thought to be indicated as a surname through apparent puns. This could be a coded reference to the poet's name, in the style of much late-mediæval literature. Langland's authorship, however, is not entirely beyond dispute, as recent work by Stella Pates and C. David Benson has demonstrated.

History of the title

In the sixteenth century, when Piers was first printed, authorship was attributed by various antiquarians, such as John Bale and poets to John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, amongst others. Some sixteenth and seventeenth-century persons regarded the poem as anonymous, and/or associated it with texts in the plowman tradition of social complaint, particularly the Chaucerian pseudepigrapha, The Ploughman's Tale and Pierce the Ploughman's Crede. The latter was appended to Owen Rogers' 1560 edition of Piers Plowman, a degraded version of Robert Crowley's 1550 editions. The character of Piers himself had come to be considered by many readers to be in some sense the author. The first printed editions by Crowley named the author as "Robert Langland" in a prefatory note. Langland is described as a probable protégé of Wycliffe. With Crowley's editions, the poem followed an existing and...
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