Counting Sheep in the C Text of Piers Plowman
This article examines L’s relationship to the ideal of stewardship elaborated in contemporary estates-management manuals and sermons. It further takes up L’s extended engagement in the C text of PPl with the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13), arguing that this parable crystalizes for L the difficulties of putting stewardship into practice in a fallen world where the accounting procedures can be used to hide fraud and theft just as easily as they can be used to reveal such abuses. Taken together with the C text’s sharpened focus on restitution as part of the penitential process, the added and revised references to Luke 16 in the C text reveal a poet deeply troubled by the demands of stewardship, who does not find in the literature of estates management and sermons resources sufficient to formulate a way of living by which he might meet stewardship’s imperative, namely, to produce an account for his use of goods at the Final Judgement which will satisfy his auditor and win him salvation. In L’s poem, we see that the ethos of stewardship puts particular pressure on the embodied nature of human life: humans must necessarily consume agricultural and other goods in order to survive, yet every use of material goods, no matter how trivial, has the potential to jeapordize one’s salvation.