Title Background

Gender and Personification in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

Gender and Personification in Piers Plowman.

WL is not constrained by Germanic gender structure, which associated abstraction with femaleness and consequently often led authors to explain away female personifications when the meaning required the masculine or to resort to exemplary types instead of abstract nouns. To WL, on the contrary, lechery is always male, and in the Confession scene, where sins are exemplified in behavior rather than personified as concepts, several sins are presented in their potential to be both male and female. WL’s personifications are not, strictly speaking, allegorical in the medieval rhetorical sense of the word as requiring an interpretation at odds with the text, but are more closely allied to metonymy, i.e., a substitution of something for the same thing. Many of his personifications are projections of the Dreamer and hence share his gender. Elsewhere, the allegorical usefulness of a particular relationship underlies variations in the gendering of personifications that become different characters in different situations.


YLS 5 (1991): 31-48.


Cooper, Helen.