Langland and Lollardy: From B to C.
“The connection between Piers Plowman and the ‘contemporary ideology of dissent'” is an important, if vexed issue, and one that deserves constant reexamination, particularly with regard to the significant changes made from B to C: “lollare” appears but once in the B text (B.15.213), but eleven times in the second vision in the C text (9). The re-assessment of this issue must begin with the important question of to what extent, and when, did broadly reformist tendencies become specifically identified as “lollard,” and whether L’s changes in C might be seen as a cautious attempt to shore up the poem against misappropriation once events overtook the poem (which had been Pearsall’s conclusion heretofore). Pearsall looks first at the various possible meanings and associations of the word “lollare” itself before testing PPl against some of the more strident views of Wycliffites “on the eucharist, on the papacy, on pilgrimages and images, [and] on the importance of preaching” (13). He finds, generally speaking, that L’s reformist tendencies are more muted in C than B. The “more radical-sounding passages,” such as Reason’s speech in C.5 or the “rather outrageous arguments concerning poverty” given to Need in C.22, should be read within the context of the dramatic artistry of the poem. L’s attempts in C to “protect his poem from the suspicion of Wycliffism” might even be better explained as clarifications of his argument. Pearsall further points out, in conclusion, that L does not write from a committed party-line, and that his more tentative choices—whether Wycliffite or anti-Wycliffite—are the products of “artistic decisions” to do with “the shape and structure of his poem” (22).