Nevere noon so nedy ne poverer deide’: Piers Plowman and the Value of Poverty.
This essay evaluates the paradoxes of poverty in PPl. It argues that L’s resistance to solutions to the problem of poverty indicates that the poet is willing to test a variety of perspectives, and by deduction, solutions, rather than one. He is able, moreover, to conceive of the value of the poor and poverty in their own right, rather than as a means for the rich to achieve salvational ends through almsgiving: “his belief that the poor will be rewarded with treasure in heaven is a statement about social justice. He asserts that those who fail in social justice by neglecting the poor and needy on earth will fail to qualify for eternal salvation, and this applies both to clergy and laity” as indicated in B.10.30-136 (Dame Study), B.11.184-217 (Trajan), and B.13.22-215 (banquet scene). Overall, L demonstrates a consistency with canonical distinctions of voluntary and involuntary poverty, but nowhere is this more visible than in Truth’s Pardon (B.7.1-104). Because for L, begging is itself a moral activity, and not just passive reception, deceptive begging is indeed a sin.