Preempting Piers’s Tearing of the Pardon: Langland’s Revisions of the C Visio
Piers’s tearing of the pardon from Truth and conversion from plowing to penitence in the A and B texts of PPl have incited an extensive critical debate. However, L’s omission of this dramatic but enigmatic act from the C text is equally perplexing. Some critics assume that L deleted this conclusion from the pardon scene for reasons external to the poem: the allusions to Piers Plowman by the rebels of the 1381 Rising. Other critics contend that L excises Piers’s response to Truth’s document either because it is unnecessary or unclear. Baker argues that L’s major revisions to the C Visio prior to passus 9 clarify the meaning of Piers’s bewildering act in various ways. The grammatical allegory distinguishes mercede, the heavenly reward offered at the end of life to those who do well, from the divine meed of a direct relationship with God which mitigates the eternal punishment for those who do evil but repent through the sacrament of penance. Will’s repentance in C.5 further clarifies the difference between this cooperation with divine meed or the ‘gobet of his grace’ that enables one to ‘bigynne a tyme | That alle tymes of my tyme to profit shal turne’ and the final mercede that results from such good works performed throughout one’s lifetime. By expanding the confession of the seven deadly sins in C.5–7, L further ‘frontloads’ this emphasis on penitence. The major revisions of the C Visio thus elucidate the meaning of Piers’s reaction to the message from Truth in the A and B texts and prove that his dramatic but enigmatic act transforms Truth’s statement of justice into a pardon in these two earlier versions of the poem.