Langland’s Persona: An Anatomy of the Mendicant Orders
Langland created the Wanderer (Will) as a persona who conflates images of the two principal kinds of mendicancy, the itinerancy of the Franciscans and Dominicans and the eremitism of the Austin friars and Carmelites. These two sets of orders provided different models of the apostolic life. Insofar as the Wanderer is represented as a failure in the pursuit of the life of perfection, the persona projects the principal shortcomings of the mendicant orders reflected in antifraternal commentary: they are wanderers and idle beggars. The persona is deeply conflicted over the question of his own itinerancy, which must finally be seen as illegitimate, because improperly motivated. On one hand, the Wanderer can be read as a negative reminder of all four mendicant orders. But as a composite figure of Francis’s two callings, mendicant and hermit, he provides a figure that would interest Franciscan readers. Although he may be a failure in his calling, he projects the potential for reform.