Political Allegory in Late Medieval England
Chapter two, “‘Full of Enigmas’: John Ball’s letters and Piers Plowman,” points to the allegorical and enigmatic aspects of Ball’s letters. These letters are likely a digest of Ball’s sermons and, as such, evince a clerical model of discourse, especially complaint verse, deploying strategies of allusion familiar both to Ball’s audiences and readers of the letters. In writing the letters, Ball borrows from the Sayings of the Four Philosophers, reworking such sentential expressions as “Might es Right,” “Frend es foo,” “Fyght es flight,” for an agrarian activist program; he also both alludes to L’s Belling of the Cat fable and uses Hobbe the Robbere and John of Ba(n)thon as “code names” for Sir Robert Hales and John of Gaunt. Ball had not misunderstood the poem at all (as some critics maintain) but rather in his letters appropriated L’s silences, the “politically dangerous” potential of the poem. Other chapters are: Introduction; Ch. 1. The Materia of Allegorical Invention; Ch. 3. Gower’s Arion and “Cithero”; ch. 4. Chaucer’s Ricardian Allegories; ch. 5. Penitential Politics in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Richard II, Richard of Arundel, and Robert de Vere; ch. 6. Joan of Arc, Margaret of Anjou, and Malory’s Guenevere at the Stake.
Rev. D. C. Fowler, Medievalia et Humanistica ns. 27 (2000): 107-10; G. Morgan, MP 99.1 (2001): 78-80; N. B. Warren, JEGP 100.4 (2001): 575-78.