Title Background

Expanding the Langlandian Canon: Radical Latin and the Stylistics of Reform.

Expanding the Langlandian Canon: Radical Latin and the Stylistics of Reform.

Somerset’s essay seeks to broaden the grounds on which a work coming after PPl might be considered “Langlandian.” She suggests that rather than limiting ourselves to strict imitations or looking for “successors to the full complexity of L’s poetic project,” we might gain a better sense of L’s influence by investigating some Wycliffite texts, since the example of Pierce the Plowman’s Crede shows that his ideas resonated sympathetically in those circles (74). Among the Langlandian qualities that Somerset highlights are the citation of biblical and patristic commentaries in the authors’s own translations, complaints about ecclesiastical and civil courts, seemingly anti-intellectual protests against academic argumentation while employing such argumentation, and repudiating non-biblical narrative for the purpose of entertainment. Somerset investigates a group of texts dating between 1409 and 1411—The Lanterne of Liõt, the sermon Omnis plantacio, and the De oblacione iugis sacrificii—concentrating on one integral aspect that these reformist works share “with Piers Plowman and . . . already canonized members of the Piers Plowman tradition”: making use of “radical Latin designed for a mass audience” (77). Arundel’s Constitutions suggests the ways in which Latin is imbued with radical potentiality, aiming, as it does, “to restrict that potential by surrounding Latin learning with layer upon layer of bureaucracy, ratification, and professional qualification” (79). The translation of “radical Latin,” then, can stand behind a democratic, reformist project since it eradicates the boundaries to the possession and practice of knowledge. Thus, for instance, the De oblacione both teaches readers argumentational techniques in English through the use of a heavily Latinized vocabulary and introduces them to Latin quotations, translation, and even debates and controversies about specific, problematic translations. Somerset provides examples in PPl in which Will is “criticized on the one hand for scorning Latinate learning, and on the other earnestly desiring it,” and concludes by suggesting that both the poem and the Wycliffite writings analyzed here share in complex, but ambivalent, attitudes towards Latin that nonetheless resolve themselves “in favor of presenting that learning to new audiences” (90, 91).


YLS 17 (2003): 73–92.


Somerset, Fiona.