Old Age Narrative Form, Narrative Form, and Epistemology in Langland’s Piers Plowman: The Possibility of Learning
This essay suggests that L’s ‘treatment of old age is an important element in the educative and epistemological agenda’ (p. 394) of PPl and that the poet’s personifications of Elde and Will embody several views about ageing in the Middle Ages — that the elderly are worthy of ridicule, best to be avoided, yet also sources of wisdom and transcendence (as in the Parliament of the Three Ages). Will is depicted as the ‘victim’ of old age in the loss of his hair, hearing, teeth, and sexual potency (B.20.193–98); in the last instance, contemporary ideas about ageing suggest that Will’s impotence indicates that he was oversexed, which hastens the ageing process. But by the conclusion of the poem, L shows that there’s more than death at the end of life; there is a future of renewal and possibility. And it is in this way that L’s outlook on old age is novel in its emphasis on the advantages of ageing.