A Game of Heuene: Word Play and the Meaning of Piers Plowman B.
Argues that word play in PPl-WL’s employment of contrast, irony, the sound and meaning of words, and the repetition of words, phrases, synonyms, and whole lines-is a clue to the way he saw the world and, as the most characteristic element of instability in the poem, is paradoxically a key to its purpose and enigmatic structure. Examines the word play in B.1 (where Will lacks the awareness of word play to enable him to interpret correctly), B.9 (where Wit’s initially simple ethical view becomes complicated through word play), B.11and 12.280-94 (where word play causes sudden changes of perspective and a sense of almost endless possibilities), and B.18 (where word play brings out the fullness of every possible appropriate meaning). In general, word play has the poetic effects of charging the poem with meaning, linking ideas and images, “cutting through arguments in a dazzling intuitive way, mocking both deceivers; and deceived with irony, and offering a vision of the coinherence of divine and human,” as well as suggesting, when used ironically, that “truth is hard to come by, impossible to restrict or contain, and easy to betray or belittle.” WL’s belief in words as a vehicle of truth is seen as a reaction to Nominalism, with word play, at the same time, a means to avoid the clarity of scholastic distinction. It is the best vehicle of a poem that narrates not theology, but experience, and aims to involve readers in the text esthetically, as in a game to “prepare minds for the act of faith which is itself paradoxical, including as it does the experience of certainty within the experience of incomprehension.”
Rev. Daniel F. Pigg, Manuscripta 34 (1990): 154-55; Hugh White, YLS 4 (1990): 167-70; J. A. Burrow, RES ns 42 (1991): 249-50; Mary C. Carruthers, SAC 13 (1991): 186-88; G. Schmitz, Archiv 228 (1991): 137-41; Charlotte Brewer, MAE 62 (1993): 126-27;