Title Background

Langland’s Visions and Revisions

Langland’s Visions and Revisions

This paper begins with B.7.153-54, 158 and seeks to trace the multi-valence of the verb “diuinen,” and its involvement in a certain tension in PPl between the authority of dreams and their illegitimacy, and the resulting doubleness of dream interpretation: there are those who authoritatively “interpret” dreams and those who, like the dreamer, merely “guess” about them. The essay imputes this tension to a fundamental scene of dream interpretation in scripture, Daniel 2: 31-45: “since the prophet can only interpret what the king ‘saw’ or dreamed (but has forgotten) by first describing what he himself saw in his vision, Daniel in effect interprets his own dream.” L demonstrates a similar interest in blurring the boundaries between dreamer and interpreter. For instance, in his revision of B.7.153-54, 158 in C.9.305-7, he introduces the verb “undede,” so as to “disambiguate deuynede and leave it meaning simply ‘interpreted,'” and adds the phrase “and sayde hem what they thouhte,” which in effect describes the prophet’s function as something like “mind-reading.” This scriptural passage, and Langland’s treatment of it, perhaps supports the additional thesis that a dreamer’s dream is the reader’s own. An example is B.16.18-21, which is characterized by Will experiencing overwhelming emotion at the commencement of “what may be the poem’s most profound and mysterious vision,” the inner-dream of the Tree of Charity. The inner-dream itself, formally speaking, signifies both a movement toward depth and “interpretation” and a notable disintegration of “interpretation” into “vision.” The C revision of this scene indicates that the poet in C stands to this B-text inner-dream as Daniel stood to the King’s dream. But ultimately Langland, “without precursor,” stands in relation to himself and his text, thus resorting to a mode of self-understanding that is in short visionary. The essay’s second part supplies a close reading of L’s revisions to the Prologue, from Z – C, that refine the realism and curtail physical details that do not serve the allegory. L undertakes the C revisions not to recant portions of B but rather to assure interpretative clarity for his readers. But that thesis itself can be tested when L’s expansions of the second vision in C are examined-which themselves seek to exhibit more centrally the project of “saying only what was seen”-for L inevitably does not have “his eye fixed unblinkingly on the expectations of his readers . . . . His chief ‘responsibility’ when composing the C version must surely have been . . . to the poem itself.”


YLS 14 (2000): 5-28.


Schmidt, A. V. C.