Piers Plowman: A New Translation of the B- Text.
The introduction (xi-xlvii) deduces the life of WL from the text, on the assumption that a first-person dream-vision “gives an accurate picture of the author, qualified by local elements of irony and exaggeration”; argues that the C revisions were in response to the events of 1381, but did not involve WL’s soft-pedaling criticism of Richard II’s tolerance of corruption; and describes WL’s “clerkliness” through his identification with the perspective on life of the Church’s ordained members, as sympathetic to the plight of the poor but committed to the notion of the crucial importance of the clergy. The form of the poem is shaped in four ways: 1) by eight main visions; 2) by a prologue and twenty passus; 3) by two thematic sections (Visio and Vita); and 4) by recapitulation of particular actions at a higher symbolic level (e.g., plowing in B.6 and B.19). The poem offers complex permutations of symbol-allegory, personification-allegory, and figural allegory, with Piers in stages literal, symbolic and figural. Like Alain of Lille, WL understands the world sacramentally, in which all mundane things, properly interpreted, guide us toward an uncreated reality. There is an interpretive summary, passus-by-passus, as well as explanatory notes (259-361) and an appendix treating WL’s alliterative practices.
Rev. George D. Economou, SAC 16 (1994): 266-71; Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, M&H ns 21 (1994): 187-90; Mary Clemente Davlin, The Chaucer Yearbook 3 (1996): 204-07; George Kane, YLS 7 (1993): 129-56 (no. 428);