Plowing the Past: “Piers Protestant” and the Authority of Medieval Literary History
PPl becomes by the sixteenth century emblematic as a native English model for satire, giving rise to a genre of Protestant plowman writings. The recognizability of the figure of Piers as a character from a centuries-old poem invests him with the authority of antiquity, mitigating the frequent charge of Protestant “newfangledness.” Reprintings of Pierce the Plowman’s Creed, as well as Crowley’s edition of PPl, call attention to the preservation of archaic diction, by which obsolescent language become textual “relics,” substituting Protestant veneration of the word for the corporal relics of Catholicism. In the case of I Playne Piers, the spurious claim to antiquity and the speaker’s self-identification as the “grandsire” of the contemporary puritan literary figure Martin Marprelate makes use of both the claim to antiquity and the appeal of topicality: rather than Piers being made modern by his affiliation with a contemporary polemical voice, Martin is rendered antique through his association with Piers. Crowley’s dating of PPl during the reign of Edward III seeks to imply a pair between that era and that of Edward VI as times of reformation, reinforcing his parallel between L and Wyclif.
YLS 13 (1999): 101-36.