Covetousness “Vnkyndenesse”, “Vnkyndenesse”, and the “Blered” Eye in Piers Plowman and “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”
This article considers the significance of the ‘blered’ eye as a figure for covetousness in PPl and ‘The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale’. PPl refers to the ‘blered’ eye in its account of the false pardoner, the confession of Covetise, and the Samaritan’s image of the three things that drive a man from his house, while the Canon’s Yeoman describes his own ‘blered’ eyes as a consequence of his master’s alchemical experiments. The article details the complex associations of the ‘blered’ eye: ‘blereynesse’ named a condition where the eye became watery or rheumatic, which was understood to be contagious and often moralised in terms of spiritual confusion, to ‘blere’ a person’s eye was an idiom for trickery and deception, and the ‘blered’ eye was associated with Leah from the book of Genesis, whose own ‘blereynesse’ was read to represent the spiritual confusion of the Old Law in relation to the New, and of the active life in relation to the contemplative. The article argues that L and Chaucer drew on the symptoms of the ‘blered’ eye, and on its interrelated moralised, idiomatic and allegorical meanings, to describe covetousness as a characteristically ‘unkynde’ sin, which alienates people from ‘kynde’ relationships and obscures the significance of ‘kynde’ knowledge. As a condition that makes it hard to see, ‘blereynesse’ figures the confusion that arises from ‘unkynde’ covetousness in these tales, while, as a contagious condition, and as an idiom for trickery, it speaks to the complex forms of deception and self-deception by which one person’s covetousness might extend to other people. Through its association with Leah and the active life, the imagery of the ‘blered’ eye reinforces the connections between ‘unkynde’ covetousness and economic work in these poems. Through its association with Leah and the Old Law, meanwhile, ‘blereynesse’ becomes part of the way the poems relate contemporary covetousness to larger historical narratives, moving from a golden age to a corrupt present in ‘The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale’, and from a sinful present to a redemptive future in PPl.