Title Background

Culture Wars’ and the Persona in <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Culture Wars’ and the Persona in Piers Plowman

This essay contests the findings of Anne Middleton, who in “Acts of Vagrancy”(Written Work, Philadelphia, 1997) asserts that the “autobiographical”passage in C.5 is an imaginative response to the Cambridge Labor Statutes of 1388. There are some textual problems with this argument. 1.) C.5.7, “In an hot eruest,”might designate the harvest so specified in the Statute or perhaps simply, “autumn”or “August. 2.) Lines 35-41, which, in suggesting that Will went to school at an early age, could be motivated by the Statute, but they do not say anything about Will having been an agricultural laborer, the status that so concerns the relevant portion of the Statute. 3.) Any argument about line 44, which names Will’s abodes, must resolve editorial problems. Is Will said to reside “in London and in the countryside”or as R-K have it, “in london and [vp]lond[on] bothe,”which produces a pun. The former supports Middleton’s argument that Will wanders between locales, but even if that were granted, the Statute does allow for wandering within districts, an unequivocal point that hardly requires elaboration in the poem. 4.) One striking absence from C.5 is the Statute’s stipulation for a “letter testimonial”: “would not Reason have demanded that Will produce such a letter?” 5.) The entire encounter between Will, Reason, and Conscience appears to be “a self-examination, an examination of conscience, rather than an allegorical civil ‘trial.’ 6.) There’s nothing in the text to support the conclusion that Will is a layman. 7.) If L intends to stage this trial involving secular authorities as a cover-up for his offenses against ecclesiastical authority, readers should keep in mind that no medieval reader considered PPl as offensive or “dangerous.” The essay then turns to assess Hanna’s argument that Will fashions himself as a hermit, or that he is indeed one, and decides that, while the evidence Hanna presents is useful in itself, it does not ascertain anything about Will’s vocation. And even the commencing lines (B/C Prol. 2-3) cast further doubt upon Will’s eremitic occupations, for it reads, when translated, “I dressed myself up in a garment [or garments] as if I were a sheep, in a garment like a sinful hermit.” After discussion the complexities and vicissitudes of the term “loller”in PPl ” all to the conclusion that L’s anticlericalism is not as “new”as the Wycliffites’, as Scase maintains “the essay concludes that the poetic person of this poem is “grounded in traditional moral theology and canon law,”a persona “according to which the poet seeks to disguise that he is himself an authoritative voice.”

Volume

YLS 15 (2001): 167-95

Cross Reference

31842

Author

Wittig, Joseph S