A Time before Fat? Gluttony in Piers Plowman
A close consideration of premodern representations of gluttony is vital for helping the late modern reader question his naturalized understandings of subjectivity and embodiment. Too often, the late modern reader assumes that gluttony and fatness are identical terms. Chapter 2, ‘A Time before Fat? Gluttony in PPl ‘, offers a close reading of the character of Gluttony in passus 5. The representation of Gluttony there focuses intensely on grotesque bodily imagery, especially bodily effluent, in order to insist that the individual who gives himself over to his gut will, ultimately, become a bestial and profane object, because of the commitment to the gut, not because of the physical gut. Indeed, Gluttony finally makes himself offensive even to his less-than-discriminating, or physically beautiful or healthy, tavern companions. The moral state of gluttony and not any physical body type, fat or otherwise, is what underwrites L’s portrayal of Gluttony. The chapter also considers this section through the lens of contemporary debates over the poor. L promotes an exacting ideal of temperance in which the individual is urged to eat a diet of mere sustenance and to labour for it, because of the moral state such promotes, not because of the physical body it might yield. The prevalence of grotesque imagery in the representation of Gluttony underscores the degree to which food that could have been given to others in alms is transformed into noxious waste, a metaphor for the morally impure state of Gluttony. (EL-N)
The Culture of Obesity in Early and Late Modernity: Body Image in Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Skelton (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 35–44.