Lady Holy Church and Meed the Maid: Re-envisioning Female Personifications in Piers Plowman.
[This article appeared in two of YLS‘s annotated annual bibliographies. Both appear below:]
[from “Annotated Bibliography, 1994”]: The depiction of Holy Church as an aristocratic woman suggests an ideal form of authority of the church, separate from the male-hegemonic form known to the dreamer, yet her words continually direct his attention to the presence of the church in his society, thus undermining her power to represent the perfected church. Her otherness signals his alienation from the body of the church; he needs to learn in a more practical, experiential way. But the contrast with the stereotyped image of femininity, Meed, breaks down, for Holy Church reveals that her authority in society is delegated and administered by men, and Meed is depicted as much a victim of the desires of men as she is a self-determined agent.
[from “Annotated Bibliography, 1996”]: In the figure of Lady Holy Church, the Dreamer idealizes the female figure in an attempt to escape his social responsibilities and replace them with a species of individual fantasy, and is thwarted in his efforts. In invoking her own counter-image in the figure of Meed the Maid, Holy Church signals that she herself is bound up in the economy of “reward.” Meed’s semantic range is ambiguous, since she is not often presented as self-determined, but is subjected to the interpretation and misuse of the men around her, as object of their desire.
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect. Ed. Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. 140-64.