Title Background

Agent Nouns in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

Agent Nouns in Piers Plowman.

WL’s unusually frequent use of agent nouns (c. 100 different ones in the A text, plus sixty others in B and thirty others in C) emphasizes the breadth and diversity of human experience, and vivifies that experience by casting it in terms of agency. In dramatizing the worst features of society, WL compresses a wide range of social criticism in the form of agents who pursue evil occupations. Allegorical figures are regularly identified in terms of activities performed, in demonstrating that the ideas they personify operate in the world outside the poem. Etymologically, the agent nouns split rather evenly between Romance adaptations and native derivations, with a few derived from Romance roots in English. Morphologically, they are formed mainly on verb rather than noun roots, with a large proportion derived from verbs in their general sense rather than in some specialized senses (e.g., beginner vs. outrider).