Langland’s ‘Lewed Vicory’ Reconsidered
In the figure of the “lewed vicory” of C.21.409-58, 480 (B.19.412-61, 484), three main themes of PPl converge: the value of learning, right rule, and the justification of criticism. The quality of “lewedness” has acquired negative value throughout the discourse of Rechelesnesse, Imaginatif, and Liberum Arbitrium, in which clerical incompetence is seen as a failure of leadership. As the vicar takes his place in the set piece of estates satire devoted to the cardinal virtues, he provides a vehement criticism of the pope and his cardinals. As a “lewed” vicar, incapable of spiritual leadership, he is a graver threat to the spiritual health of England than the pope and cardinals in Rome. His challenge of Conscience echoes that of the “lewed” priest of passus 8 against Piers himself, as both attempt to restrict the boundaries of salvation. The vicar’s lack of love, self-criticism, and leadership is seen to permeate the entire hierarchical structure from the ignorant vicar at the bottom to the vicar of Christ, the pope, at the top.
JEGP 95 (1996): 322-35.