Conscience Piers, Piers, and the Dreamer in the Structure of Piers Plowman B.
The poem can be divided into six sections, based on the alternating appearances of Conscience and Piers and their interaction with the dreamer: B.Prol.-4 (Conscience vs. Lady Meed); 5-7 (Piers and the Pardon); 8-12 (Will’s third dream); 13-15 (Conscience, Patience, and Haukyn); 16-18 (the apotheosis of Piers); and 19-20 (the synthesis). Conscience and Piers appear twice each before their joint appearance in the final section. The first appearance of each entails conflict, largely unresolved, with forces in rebellion against God and order, while the second appearance of each presents a spiritualization of his character that suggests a movement toward resolution. Set between these paired appearances is an analogous visionary pilgrimage of the dreamer (passus 8-12) with its movement toward acceptance of spiritual, supra-rational answers. The dreamer identifies closely with Conscience who, like him, must resolve the practical difficulties of leading a virtuous life in a sinful world; Piers, on the other hand, must be brought to deal with the mysteries of theology. The interaction between Piers and Conscience and their only temporary union reflects the struggle of fallen mankind to Do Well. God’s kingdom on earth can be experienced in only limited fashion until Christ shall come again, i.e., until Piers is united again with Conscience.