Title Background

<i>Piers Plowman</i> and the New Anticlericalism. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature.

Piers Plowman and the New Anticlericalism. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature.

Analyzes PPl in the context of a new, fourteenth-century anticlericalism that altered the original terms of the satire (secular clergy vs. friars, friars vs. monks, etc.) as influenced by William of St. Amour et al., into an attack on all clergy, centered on the question of dominion, i.e., the authority by which powers and property were held. PPl shows the anticlerical appropriation of many of Richard FitzRalph’s contributions to the debate: in a satirical “confusion” over precisely who is a possessioner, in the satire of both friars and parish clergy for their wrath, in the use of the restitution-theme against priests as well as friars, in the description of Sire Penetrans-domos acting as a priest, and in the absence of a defense of priestly power based on either clerical learning or clerical ignorance. The new polemic is also seen in an emphasis on the claims of the involuntary poor, based on those authorities that earlier had been enlisted in defense of religious mendicancy, which now comes to be linked with lay vagrancy. Clerical dominion is defined in the age of PPl in terms of charity. The treatment of Constantine’s endowment (B. I 5.557ff.) shows that acquiring civil dominion had been a catastrophic departure from original evangelical poverty in accord with charity; indeed, charity, rather than poverty, is seen as the cornerstone of clerical dominion. Treatment in PPl of exemplars and leaders of various religious orders erodes the distinctions between such Orders, rather than supporting the claims of one against another as in the past. The adaptation (in C.9) of the gyrovague satire, which gives form to the link between religious mendicants and lay idlers suggested in B, extends the implications of that anticlerical analysis. C.5 recasts what was originally a sectarian or partisan satire into one directed against both friars and secular clerics. As a result of FitzRalph’s theories, a notion of dominion developed which divested all clerics of temporal lordship, and invested it in those who were not clerics, thereby creating a crisis of authority for anticlerical writing in which both clerical literary authority and the new anticlerical literature became targets. For that reason, PPl and contemporary satirical writings employ characteristic forms and rhetorical strategies, such as the use of a satirized clerical speaker as a mouthpiece of anticlericalism, to legitimize their endeavors.

Rev. Joerg O. Fichte, Anglia 108 (1990): 509-10; David Lawton, YLS 4 (1990): 176-80; James Simpson, N&Q ns 37 (1990): 455-56; Lawrence Clopper, Envoi 2 (1990): 438-46; Robert Worth Frank, Jr., SAC 11 (1991): 232-35; T. Turville-Petre, RES ns 42 (1991): 562-63; Gloria Cigman, Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1991): 377-78; O. B. Hardison, Jr., Theological Studies 51 (1990): 370-72; Penn R. Szittya, Speculum 67 (1992): 1040-42; Thomas Renna, Fifteenth-Century Studies 20 (1993): 427-29; Siegfried Wenzel, Yearbook of English Studies 21 (1991): 326-27; Thomas Renna, Fifteenth-Century Studies 20 (1993): 427-29.


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.


Scase, Wendy.