For She Is Tikel of Hire Tale’: Word-Play in the Lady Mede Episode of Piers Plowman B
Lele wordes point toward divine truth; bele paroles are those of which the signa of their makkynges are considered ends in themselves. Lady Meed, a bele parole, demonstrates the danger of signification in a fallen world: she is an unattached signifier, a signum without a res, and as such is not to be trusted. The failure to link the signa of creation exclusively to the res of God involves error, heresy, and idolatry, known to the Middle Ages through the pervasive metaphor of “fornications of the spirit.” Meed’s treacherous, fickle nature as unattached signifier is reflected in the issue of who will marry her, the dual strain in her ancestry, her role in history, her rampant promiscuity, and especially in the pervasive presence of puns both in what she says and what others say about her. Not at all “morally neutral,” she is better described as “immoral neutrality.”
Proceedings of the PMR Conference 14 (1989): 99-126.