An Introduction to Piers Plowman
This book, the latest volume in the University Press of Florida’s series ‘New Perspectives on Medieval Literature: Authors and Traditions’, introduces PPl to first time readers as one of the primary masterpieces of Middle English Literature, which stands on a par with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Perhaps because the poem involves culture, religion, community, and work and engages explicitly with the histories of government and popular revolt, PPl has found new critical and pedagogic life in the last twenty years. This book responds to the need for a detailed, step by step introduction that will inspire students to understand the poem, its language, and its culture. Most aids to reading PPl focus on the B text almost exclusively. But L wrote his poem three times, and since parallel study is on the rise, this would be the first guide to look at all three versions. The book includes a chapter on the Life of the Poet, a list of characters and allegorical personifications in the poem, a guide to studying L and his contemporaries (both English and Continental), and also a detail pronunciation guide, which will contribute to the knowledge and proficiency of mono- and multi-lingual readers alike. At the heart of the book is a twenty-four-chapter narrative reading guide, tracing, passus by passus in parallel, the evolution of the three texts.
The book emerges from the author’s teaching experience at a historically Hispanic university in Los Angeles and displays spirit of cultural and religious inclusivity. It engages with the poem as a spiritual, emotional, and civic experience, as relevant today as when it was written, emphasizing themes of social justice and communal responsibility. The book therefore addresses the perpetual relevance of the poem and thus will appeal to a contemporary multicultural readership and to a modern, activist academy. The poem’s social relevance draws the reader into a seemingly alien medieval world and reveals, finally, that it is not alien at all. Each classroom and reader engaging with the poem will feel the irresistible power of the noble, hardworking plowman fighting for truth and justice, bespeaking the integrity of physical — and spiritual — labour. The book’s critical argument is founded upon the contention that PPl, so engaged with social politics, will excite students as it excited L’s original readers.
PPl also confronts other issues — personal, theological, and civic — that all peoples and societies must struggle with. It criticizes wealth, praises the poor, and speaks truth to power in ways that still appeal to us in modern society. By no means an old dead text, it resonates with students in the modern university classroom. It connects, in fact, with as many contemporary debates and social justice issues as modern readers can think of, just as it did in its own time.
An Introduction to Piers Plowman (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016).