Piers Plowman and Plowmen: A Historical Perspective.
B.5.540-42 presents Piers as an ideal servant plowman who carries out the duties through the year expected of a full-time manorial famulus; elsewhere (B.6) he is represented as an independent peasant with his own draught animals and equipment, who, as such, would have been likely to occupy local offices of responsibility. WL exaggerates the higher standard of living enjoyed by landless peasants over that of the supposedly superior landowning peasantry. Rather surprisingly, the honest plowman, rather than a knight or other authority figure, becomes a mouthpiece for criticism of the demands and fecklessness of the lower orders of society. The rebels of 1381, many of whom were independent plow owners, would have identified with the poem’s criticism of a corrupt society, but their imperfect knowledege of the poem did not extend to WL’s acceptance of serfdom, sympathy for the organic theory of the three orders of society, and emphasis on a spiritual (rather than secular) cure for society’s ills.
YLS 8 (1994): 155-76.