14 March 2013
William Langland: Piers Plowman
The life of William Langland is a mystery. There is very little known about the man who wrote the Middle English, alliterative poem known as Piers Plowman. I did gather that he was born in the West Midlands around 1330 and may have died in 1386 (William Langland). Though much not can be found on Langland’s life, one can infer that he had many different life experiences in which he may drawn from to write Piers Plowman (Calabrese 123). Whether one looks at the elegant trial of Lady Meed at the King’s court, to impoverished life lived on Piers Plowman’s half-acre. Also the narrator in Piers Plowman seems to indicate that Langland may have been exposed to a higher education (Calabrese 123).
There are three different versions of Piers Plowman, known as the A-text, the B-text, and the C-text The A-text is the earliest and shortest of the three versions and is about 2,400 lines long (Greenblatt 297). The B-text is an revision of the A-text in which the original 2,400 lines are still there but turned into a 4,000 line piece of work. During my reading of the B-Text, I found that it was more poetic in its form (Greenblatt 297). What I also found was that the C-text was almost a full revision of the B-Text with not much more added. The A-text seemed to be written in 1370 while the B-text. The C-text may have been written in 1381 during the “Peasants Revolt of 1382” (William Langland).
The opening lines let the reader know what to expect: a man named Will on a religious quest that is set in a dream-like, vision state. He wakes up in Field Full of Folk in the opening scene. It is quite obvious to the reader that Will is a very righteous man as he is described to be wearing “shroudes as [he] a sheep were, / In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes.” (line 124). This indicates that Will is in clothes made of sheepskin, a symbolic meaning to The Lamb (Calabrese 4). However, it could also make the reader conclude that he may also be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The uncertainty is loathsome. The reader might think, “Is he good or evil? Will he hurt or help?” (Calabrese 124). The phrase, “unholy of werkes” seems like Will could be evil, but by the end of the poem, we see that it meant that spiritually Will was only just a child and needed to mature. In continuation with this idea, in the prologue of Piers Plowman, Will is born metaphorically into his vision and faith. In the first passus, Will is confronted by a female named, Holy Church and becomes quickly engaged in learning how to be a good Christian (line 153). Holy Church represents a holy and pure church that is uncorrupted by man (Daegman 274). She is vital for teaching Will the basics of Christianity. I found that her presence was the best way to teach Will the holy and pure way to be a Christian untouched by the corrupt hands of man. She also teaches Will that the body and soul are in constant struggle for power. Holy Church explains that Will must find the balance between physical self and spiritual self lead by the soul; what may be good for one may not be good for the other(line 209). Will must learn at this point what moderation is. Moderation is a vital step of self-control and awareness in Piers Plowman.
Will is now faced with a few new characters named, Kynde Wit, who tells him the way of common sense; Reason, who tells him what reason and moderation mean; and Truth expects Will he must be truthful in speech, work, and intent of the heart and soul (700-1235). Before Will could fully comprehend what Truth meant, he need to find out what truth is not: falsity or the character “Falseness”. After meeting with these characters Will had learned everything they could instill upon him. However, since Will is in a dream-like, vision state, he fears that he will not have the capability to make the right decision with his own free will.
In his early...