Title Background

Langland William., William.

Langland William., William.

Admits that nothing definitive can be known of the poem’s author and that Langland’s authorship of the three versions is “not yet a wholly dead issue,” but accepts as authoritative the note in Trinity College, Dublin, ms. D.4.1 regarding Stacy de Rokayle, father of William “de Longland,” etc., as well as Bale’s ascription to Langland. Finds the presumed order of composition of the three versions not capable of absolute proof, but comparison suggests that B is intermediate and A earlier. Dates the A text in late 1360s or early 1370s (allusions to Alice Perrers), B text 1376-79 (references to Good Parliament), C text before 1388 (death of Thomas Usk). Offers an interpretative summary of the three versions which stresses the transformation of Will from passive to active in the Visio and Vita, the similarities of Visio and Vita in sharply satirizing the clergy, the poem’s combination of homily and intense poetry, and its constant discussion of Christianity’s basic tenets. Truth, visible at the beginning, proves elusive; Holy Church is human and fallible. The C text shows Langland dissatisfied with the earlier, ideal distinction of true meed and “meed mesureless.” In general, Dowel refers to living in accord with Christian teaching in the active life; Dobet to living more contemplatively in patience and charity, helping and teaching others; Dobest to the life of an ecclesiastical executive. Imaginatif is Will’s own reconstructive memory; Anima (Liberum Arbitrium in C), a model of the human psyche with all its functions. Surprisingly, the narrative of Christ’s triumph does not conclude the poem on a hopeful note; instead, there is a true apocalypse in which, characteristic of the poem, Dobest (here, Piers as St. Peter and a type of the good pope) must be sought anew. Includes a bibliography of editions and major studies to 1980.


Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Joseph R. Strayer, Editor in Chief. Vol. 7. New York: Scribner's, 1986. 329-37.


Donaldson, E. Talbot.