Title Background



The persona of PPl is not the autobiographical projection of the author, but the poet’s partly fictional vehicle of ideas not necessarily his own. Likewise, there is no reason to think that the interruption of the A text and the commencement of the B version signals Langland’s own experience, then resolution, of doctrinal or personal problems. Like Chaucer, and as opposed to continental predecessors in the dream-vision tradition, Langland is skeptical concerning the interpretation of actual dreams, which the dream of the poem resembles in its non-rational, fragmentary aspects. The poem develops in a spiral-like fashion around four important concepts: the field of folk (the material world), Holy Church, the pardon (linked to the capital sins and identified with Piers), and the crucifixion rood. The poem is a series of allegories that are largely not accessible to the methods of fourfold exegesis. Images and ideas are often incompletely fused, and the line between allegory and actuality often blurred. Langland’s alliterative line appears closer to speech rhythm than to that of Winner and Waster or the Parliament of the Three Ages. His style combines the sublime with the mundane; he is especially fond of kinetic verbs in unexpected contexts; his language is seldom consciously poetic. The poem shares allegorical characters and images with Deguileville’s P√©lerinage de la Vie Humaine, but the character Piers is unique; PPl inherits the traditional triadic pattern exemplified in the Anglo-Norman Lumi√®re as lais, but balances the Active and Contemplative with a mixed life similar to that of an active, devout bishop.

Rev. J. A. Burrow, N&Q ns 34 (1987): 520-21; Charles Blyth, EIC 37 (1987): 321-29; A. J. Minnis, TLS 6 Feb. 1987: 140; Albert E. Hartung, Speculum 64 (1989): 922-25; John M. Hill, SAC 11 (1989): 180-82; Dieter Mehl, Anglia 107 (1989):175-80; Gbtz Schmitz, Archiv 226 (1989): 147-51.


Middle English Literature. Ed. and completed by Douglas Gray. The Oxford History of English Literature. Ed. John Buxton and Norman Davis, vol. 1, part 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. 430-55.


Bennett, J. A. W.