Title Background

Dread Love and the Bodies of <i>Piers Plowman</i> A.10, Love and the Bodies of <i>Piers Plowman</i> A.10, B.9 and C.10″

Dread Love and the Bodies of Piers Plowman A.10, Love and the Bodies of Piers Plowman A.10, B.9 and C.10″

The essay analyzes the very different affective theologies espoused by Wit in the various versions of PPl (A.10, B.9 and C.10). In A.10, Wit emphasizes the devotional value of negative feelings like dread and suffering as well as the negative consequences of seemingly positive, but sinful feelings like illicit love. B.9’s Wit still endorses the devotional value of dread, but considers loving dread of God better than servile fear of hellfire. In many ways an inverse of Wit A, Wit C emphasizes the devotional value of love, as well as the dangers posed by cowardly dread. Though they are different, the affective theology expressed by each version of Wit has analogues within medieval England’s devotional culture. Critics have taken this apparent, gradual change from a theology of dread to one of love over the course of A.10, B.9, and C.10 to be the product of one a single author’s changing emotional proclivities over many years. Recent scholarship by Lawrence Warner, however, suggests that many of the loving lines uttered by B.9’s Wit were actually culled from an early draft of C.10 by a post-C redactor. Whether or not Piers Plowman as we know it today was the product of a single author’s labor, it certainly did not have a singular effect on its earliest readers. Indeed, since all three versions of Wit circulated simultaneously, the poem must have had an extremely variegated and complex effect on the emotional atmosphere of late medieval England’s devotional culture.