Beatus qui verba vertit in opera: Langland’s Ethical Invention and the Tropological Sense’ ,
This essay argues that PPl defies Rita Copeland’s categories of ‘primary translation’, which seeks to embody its source texts without innovation, and ‘secondary translation’, which competes to displace its source texts. L modifies classical invention theories, which held that the copy achieves excellence through its difference from the model, by meditating on coinage as an image of baptism and sanctification, where the copy achieves excellence by conforming to the model (B.15/C.17). PPl adopts non-competitive habits of invention from the theory and practice of tropological exegesis in order to embody ethical and literary sources in the invention of ‘heretofore unseen phenomena’. In the Pentecost episode (B.19/C.21), Will joins ‘many hundret’ in inventing the ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’, a hymn given to them by the Holy Spirit. The nascent Church thus invents something completely new (the Christian liturgy) even as it conforms as closely as possible to its source, the Holy Spirit. When Peace ‘pipe[s] of poesie a note’ to end the debate between the Four Daughters of God (B.18/C.20), she accomplishes in her song the very reconciliation of which she sings. Her literary invention constitutes ethical action, and this is L’s ideal practice of making. Moreover, her invention of peace inspires further singing, more literary beginnings, suggesting that doing well can be just as productive of new beginnings as the patterns of failure, rebuke, and loss that Anne Middleton, D. Vance Smith, and Nicolette Zeeman have identified as the impetus for L’s inventive practice. (RM)
YLS, 24 (2010), 169-204.