Langland’s Elusive Plowman.
In the Visio, Piers functions as a fairly literal plowman, an ideal honest laborer and, at the highest level of abstraction, as the allegorical servant of Truth. His unity of meaning can be explained through an understanding of the figurative processes of vernacular allegory, with Jean de Meun’s Amis providing the closest correspondence to Piers, in his role of a particular person and at the same time a representative of a social type and exponent of a particular ideology. In the Tree of Charity scene Piers represents the divine quality of character demonstrated by Christ in his assumption of human nature; this quality, expressed through willing and patient poverty, shows Will the meaning of charity and, in the use of the three staves, the difference between forgivable sins and irremissible loss of charity. In B.19-20 the allegory aims not to identify Piers with any particular level of ecclesiastical hierarchy, but to demonstrate the necessity that occupants of ecclesiastical offices practice the values of treuthe epitomized by the plowman. In all his appearances, Piers represents the moral idea founded on the character of God, which is patient poverty of heart.
Traditio 45 (1989-90): 257-341.
Overstreet, Samuel A.