Title Background

Piers Plowman and the Police: Notes toward a History of the Wycliffite Langland.

Piers Plowman and the Police: Notes toward a History of the Wycliffite Langland.

PPl‘s controversial potential allowed for its appropriation by Lollard sympathizers as well as its becoming a target of orthodox suppression, most strongly through the Chaucerian tradition created by Lancastrian proponents of the future Henry V, and including Thomas Chaucer and John Lydgate. The stigma of the poem’s connection with the Peasants’ Revolt was worsened as John Ball became identified as an agent of Wyclif, and the Cistercian Dieulacres Abbey Chronicle went so far as to list “Per Plowman” along with “Johannes B” as leaders of the Revolt. WL’s criticism of the friars, suspicion of the motives underlying the manufacture of religious imagery, emphasis on clerical poverty, and apocalyptic vision would all have been well received by Lollards. C-text revisions, such as the deletion of the Pardon scene, make sense as attempts to distance the poem from issues hotly debated in the early 1390s, the date originally proposed for the C text by Skeat. Many PPl manuscripts were doubtless confiscated and destroyed, for it would not have been popular to copy the poem in London after Arundel’s Constitutions. Like Lollard manuscripts, PPl manuscripts typically are without title and author, offer few headings and colophons, and contain little evidence of owners. The Langlandian works of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries are probably only chance survivors of a richer tradition which joined the Lollard underground, to emerge much later, in the more hospitable climate of the reign of Edward VI.


YLS 6 (1992): 1-50.


Bowers, John M.