Prophecy and Apocalypse in Langland’s Piers Plowman B-Text, B-Text, Passus XVI to XIX.
WL shows a distaste for fantasizing about the unknown and, like Virgil, Dante, and Milton, predicts in his poem only events that have, in fact, already occurred. He manages this by shifting the Dreamer’s perspective back in time at the beginning of passus 16 so that, when Piers plucks an apple from the Tree of Charity, we witness a brief inner dream (16.20-167) that prophesies all of human history down to Christ’s Incarnation. In the ensuing dramatization of Faith and Hope, WL is emphasizing the limitations of those theological virtues (which look to the future so thoroughly that they overlook the obligation of the present moment). By contrast, for the Samaritan – as for WL – the future is now. WL is not a millenarian in the usual sense of the term since he channels all of his energy into portraying a messiah who has already come. “By the end of Passus XVIII everything that Langland thinks shall or ought to be is no longer anticipated. It is here.” PPl is an apocalypse because it offers an end attainable by faith and hope at any time, not because it depicts “the last times.” WL is heavily indebted to the Apocalypse for many of the details in passus 16 through 19. The founding of Unity Holy Church (19.213-335) is WL’s picture of the millennium, a picture influenced by traditional Augustinian exegesis of Apocalypse 20 rather than by contemporary utopian fantasies.
JEGP 84 (1985): 313-27.