On the Sadness of Not Being a Bird: Late-Medieval Marriage Ideologies and the Figure of Abraham in William Langland’s Piers Plowman
This chapter considers L’s partiality to marriage through an investigation of his representation of the figure of Abraham. Abraham acquires an extraordinary plasticity in PPl as L twists together iconographic strands which are more usually kept separate in the representations of the patriarch to be found in the texts and intertexts with which L is in dialogue. This article argues, too, for a close thematic relationship between Abraham’s exposition of the Trinity and marriage in B passus 16 with the vision of ‘Myddelerthe’ in passus 12; these passages are connected by an intertextual engagement with Augustine’s De nuptiis et concupiscentia. This reading finds, at the heart of the poem’s treatment of marriage, a mournfulness about the limited spiritual possibilities of conjugal life in late medieval culture, which is expressed as an unhappy contrast between the avian and human worlds. (ID)
Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household in Medieval England, ed. by P. J. P. Goldberg and Maryanne Kowaleski (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 209–31.