Langland’s Plowman and the Recreation of Fourteenth-Century Religious Metaphor.
The startling juxtaposition of B. 15.212, . . Piers þe Plowman, Petrus id est christus, would have surprised a medieval audience less for the identification of an earthly person with Christ than for WL’s particular designation of a plowman in such a context, given the conventional portrayal of peasants and laborers in medieval literary tradition and the biblical idiom that valorizes the figure of the shepherd but associates the plowman with the mark of Cain. WL’s figure of the virtuous plowman and Chaucer’s later portrait of the Plowman are largely untraditional, presenting a point-by-point reversal of the almost universal criticism and satire previously directed toward the occupation. Although farming itself is commonly taken as symbolic of spiritual values, and the sower of seed, whose activity lends itself to favorable allegorical treatment, is occasionally presented positively, the plowman is almost never so treated. Despite the absence of any pervasive biblical, liturgical, or didactic tradition, WL’s bold recontextualization. nevertheless became conventional in later religious iconography.
YLS 2 (1988): 1-21.
Kirk, Elizabeth D.