Title Background

God and the Human Body in <i>Piers Plowman</i>

God and the Human Body in Piers Plowman

Imagery of body parts, description of gestures and postures, other sense images of bodily states and processes, genealogical terms, and references to animal life make PPl a thoroughly bodily poem in its language. Sometimes ‘body’ is defined as distinct from the soul, ‘the goost’ from ‘the gut’ (B.1.36), but none of the names for body denigrate it, except sometimes the word ‘flessh’ (sarx). However, L also uses ‘flessh’ positively as John does, to express the incarnation: ‘the Word was made flesh’ (John 1: 14). Caro, the Latin for ‘flesh’, is defined by Wit at 9.50 not in contradistinction from ‘soul’ but as ‘man with a soule’, i.e., a living body, which is seen in the poem as frail but the author of good as well as evil acts. Bonds between God and the body are based on creation, the incarnation, the indwelling, the eucharist, and the hope of bodily resurrection. As a result, characters in the poem expect God to react to human bodily suffering or need with ‘conforte’ (B.14.175). Word play emphasizes that human action (e.g., werche) mirrors divine action, being described in the same words. The Samaritan explains the extreme value the Holy Spirit places on the living human body (B.17.275–84). Most of all, the body of Christ binds God to the body in human kynde. (MCD)


Chaucer Review, 46 (2011), 147–65


Davlin, Mary Clemente