Epilogue: The Legacy of Piers Plowman.
As allusions to PPl in John Ball’s Letter suggest, the poem had gained sufficient fame by 1381 to serve as a rallying cry for those favoring the Revolt; this would have been either the B text or an A text that included the material after the Tearing of the Pardon. Usk’s Testament of Love shows a probable knowledge of the C text, but Chaucer’s use of PPl is an open question. Earlier critical assessments of the borrowings from PPl in WW and P3A must be reassessed in light of new, earlier datings of the latter two poems. Death and Life and Scottish Feilde probably echo the alliterative tradition generally, rather than PPl specifically; but more specific echoes are to be found in the Crowned King. Most Lollard texts appear to be later than the A and B texts and all but the latest dating of the C version. The common tradition of anticlericalism argues against the direct influence of PPl on the Lay Folks’ Catechism. PPCreed is the first case of irrefutable influence of PPl, but the range of PPCreed is much smaller than that of PPl and is largely devoted to satire of the mendicant orders. The not specifically Lollard Mum and the Sothsegger (1399-1400, 1403-06) shows a knowledge of A and B, and echoes concern for an immediate social and political message, rather than one of spiritual quest. The Prayer and Complaint of the Plowman and the Plowman’s Tale raise the question of the extent to which the plowman spokesman had become a commonplace by the sixteenth century or was instead a conscious revival of a figure associated with PPl. After 1550 the popularity of the plowman figure may be due to Crowley’s printing of the poem, but there is evidence of the figure from slightly before that date in I playne Piers, in which Piers is a voice of reason and reform. Crowley was probably aware of the A and C versions and may have incorporated some readings from those texts. Following Bale, he saw the author as a contemporary and implicit follower of Wyclif. Crowley’s efforts, which were part of a concerted plan to produce suitable reading matter of a reforming cast that might give authority to new ecclesiastical dispensations, guaranteed the circulation of the poem after Elizabeth’s accession. Gavin Douglas and John Skelton probably knew the poem, as did the author of the Mirror for Magistrates. But often those who allude to the poem (e.g., Webbe, Puttenham) show little familiarity with it.
Alford, Companion to PPl, 251-66.