Piers Plowman, Parliament, and the Public Voice.
PPl’s relationship with contemporary political institutions and institutional forms deserves to be re-assessed just as our understanding of the latemedieval parliament has broadened thanks to recent historical research. For Giancarlo, “crucial poetical issues [are] at stake” in L’s engagement with these institutions and forms, notably, profound questions about “who gets to speak both in and for a community,” what community is, and how it might be “represented” (136, 137). This self-declaredly New Historicist essay opens with the anecdote of a dream-vision granted to one of the provincial knights on the eve of the Good Parliament of 1376, Sir Thomas Hoo of Bedfordshire, whose son left his arms in one copy of PPl. This miraculous anecdote, recorded only in the St. Alban’s Chronicle, evincing some of the same anxieties as the Lady Meed/Alice Perrers episode in passu) s 2–4, may also be read as a dream about “meed, about proper payment and equitable return”; bridging allegory and politics on the one hand, and secular and ecclesiastical institutions on the other, the dream embodies the spiritual aspirations behind the reformist agenda of the Good Parliament. Within this richer context, Giancarlo reads the Lady Meed episode against parliamentary records, unpacking some of its well-known confusions and contradictions. He shows not only how L’s treatment of parliament is a recognizable practice—his “presentation of parliament as a court is neither anachronistic nor inaccurate”— but also that it is through “the poetical representation of political representation” that L finds a speaking voice in this part of the poem (150, 162). The essay then further considers the implications of the parliamentary concern with regulating the disbursement of monies in the Barn of Unity episode and concludes that L is not necessarily writing a parliamentary poem; rather, in his role as public poet he finds in parliament a “conceptual landscape, [a] comfortable framework” that serves to represent the multiple debating public voices in PPl.
YLS 17 (2003): 135–74.