Piers Plowman and the Sublime
Numerous critics have applied the term “sublime” to PPl, but what is meant by sublime requires a rigorous re-theorization in order to offer an analytic by which to understand the poem. Middleton has provided the most intriguing work in this direction by constructing a critique of the conventional sublime while appropriating its discourse. Will’s frustrated attempts to justify his “making” and the repeated failures of narrative closure in the poem recall a Kantian sublime, whereby the mind exults in conceiving of a totality that cannot be known sensually. Middleton demonstrates that this transcendence for the poem’s subject and its readers is illusory, since they do not appropriate or deform the discourses of authority, but seek to restore them to “correct” usage. But she ultimately partakes of the conventional discourse of the sublime in her view that the poem culminates in a mountaintop vision of the divine incarnate, the “thing itself,” at the end of passus 18.