Title Background

<i>Piers Plowman</i> and the Problem of Belief.

Piers Plowman and the Problem of Belief.

WL wrote PPl not to teach but to find out; the dynamic of the poem arises with a problem of belief, specifically how the author might come to believe in Christ. Four separate starts-the Visio and each of the Vitae-are made. Rather than moving progressively, however, each “takes to its conclusion the sort of thinking present in its starting point,” and only when the last is in place do their endpoints constellate in a solution to Will’s problem. Reason, by which WL means causality, rectitude, justice, and equity, “constitutes the Law rather than knows the Christ,” and is generally useless to fallen humanity, except in its function as perceiving analogy, which allows for a knowledge of God beginning with the self. In the third dream, Thought represents the power to reason by compounding and dividing but as such is incapable of attaining to a statement of the particular existent Dowel. Wit, like the ancient faculty ingenium, represents the knowledge of means and its praxis; he simply models God after the human soul instead of offering Will a way to discover in the soul the God who is other than humankind. Imaginatif, the similitude-making faculty, cannot provide first-intentional knowledge of God. Conscience is seen in its moral, psychological, and conative aspects, at times becoming the emotion of grief, and although Haukyn, who resembles Piers in a “larval stage,” and the moral conscience do not reach conversion, they are “part of the movement to conversion,” which comes to Will as Conscience teaches him to see Christ through the plowman, i.e. through human suffering. The progression of Dowel, Dobet, Dobest parallels a movement in understanding Christ as knight (just), king (agape), and conqueror (raising man from death into paradise). As Piers receives then destroys the pardon, God the void becomes God the enemy; to the extent that Piers’s “tene” registers sorrow and anger with himself, he is converted to a knowledge of God as companion.

Rev. David Aers, MAE 62 (1993): 321-22; Stephen A. Barney, YLS 7 (1993): 165-67; J. F. O’Malley, Choice 30 (1992): 618; Christina von Nolcken, N&Q ns 40 (1993): 519-20; Anna Baldwin, SAC 16 (1994): 205-07; C. David Benson, Speculum 69 (1994): 794-96; Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, M&H ns 21 (1994): 187-90; Kevin Magarey, Perergon ns 11 (1993): 151-52; Priscilla Martin, MLR 89 (1994): 712-15; Daniel F. Pigg, Chaucer Yearbook 2 (1995): 169-71; A. V. C. Schmidt, RES ns 46 (1995): 66-67; Michael W. Twomey, JEGP 94 (1995): 119-21.


Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1992.


Harwood, Britton J.