Title Background

Conscience’s Dinner

Conscience’s Dinner

A literal narrative reading of Conscience’s dinner (B.13) suggests that this scene, in which the learned yields in a comic victory to the underdog Patience, is informed by Matthew 22, where Jesus is unsuccessfully baited by a Pharisee regarding the greatest of the commandments. The friar’s definition of Dowel (B.13.103-05) seems unduly negative, but in fact quotes Psalm 14, which Clergy will later cite. The latter’s definition (B.13.123-30), in relying on the quizzical grammatical analogy, remains incomplete. In a key moment, Conscience moves the discussion from books to life (134-35), and allows Patience, the ultimate winner in the argument, to define the three Do’s in terms of loving one’s enemies. Conscience’s collocation (lines 194-97) of three stories from Luke, which highlight the victory of a poor woman over a rich man, serves to identify Patience as Christ. The reconciliation effected between Clergy and Conscience (211-14) envisions their working together, with Patience as a partner, toward millennial peace. Conscience is the protagonist of the scene; Patience’s external transformation into Christ and his sudden metamorphosis into Piers in the C text stand for the inner transformation of Conscience, and perhaps of Will. Conscience’s later willingness to admit Friar Flatterer into Unity can be understood as a reflection of his development in the dinner scene, in a growth of patience and love of his enemy.


Tavormina and Yeager, eds., The Endless Knot. 87-103.

Cross Reference



Lawler, Traugott