Title Background

Langland William (c.1325–c.1390)., William (c.1325–c.1390).

Langland William (c.1325–c.1390)., William (c.1325–c.1390).

In presenting the known information about L’s life, Kane does not simply summarize his earlier publications, but instead offers an entirely new approach in which he revises his opinion on a number of important topics. Kane now dates the B version to before 1381 on the basis of echoes of B.11.195 and 19.355-57 in Walsingham’s account of John Ball’s letter. More surprising is his abandonment of the notion that L was dead by 1387, so important in his earlier debate with Rigg and Brewer over ‘the Z version’. He accepts that John Ball was most likely not the king’s messenger who died that year, endorses Anne Middleton’s argument that the apologia pro vita sua stages an interrogation under the Statute of 1388, and adds the proposal that ‘[t]he latest topicality in C appears to be reference to the king’s implacable hatred of Gloucester and the Arundels after the dissolution of the Merciless Parliament (C.5.194–96)’. Finally, Kane picks up on an unpublished paper given by Lister Matheson that proposes a tentative identification of the poet: ‘The record of a William Rokele tonsured in the diocese of Worcester some time before 1341 redirects attention to disregarded records of an ordained cleric of that name who in 1353 was by papal letter to the bishop of Norwich preferred from a living in Easthorpe, Essex, which he was required to resign, to one in the gift of the abbot of Peterborough. The prominence of Rokeles in Easthorpe, as also in Norwich, suggests that this could be the same man.’ Kane also provides overviews of the poet’s reception and critical history (‘The study of PPl, where nothing seems to admit of absolute proof, depending accordingly on assessments of likelihood and relative plausibility of argument, is clouded by the bearing upon it of late twentieth-century literary theory and the politicization of literature’); of L in his time, an orthodox reformer but no rebel; and of L from the poem, who was ‘driven by two compulsions. One, externally generated, was to communicate his heightened sense of anxiety by bringing together salient instances of the moral deterioration of his age and his sense of imminent change. […] The other compulsion was that of the artist whose medium is language, for whom the act of composition is necessary to self-fulfilment.’


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16021).


Kane, George