Relatives at the Court of Heaven: Contrasted Treatments of an Idea in Piers Plowman and Pearl.
Both PPl and Pearl exploit the two closely related fourteenth-century meanings of court, as “court of law” and “administrative and residential headquarters of a monarch”; and both poems develop the notion that possessing relatives in the heavenly court gives one an advantage in gaining admission there. In B.5.625-29, Piers tells the pilgrims that anyone who is a relative of the seven virtues guarding the seven posterns of Heaven will be handsomely received; for others it will be difficult indeed. But lines 635-36 indicate that as a result of the Incarnation God is related to all sinners, a lesson lost on the prostitute at the end of the passus who hopes to gain entry by claiming kinship with the Pardoner, rather than by uttering the password demanded by Amend-you. Pearl similarly exposes the limitations of the overly literal-minded attitudes toward spiritualia seen in the dreamer’s vain hope that he can join his daughter across the stream at the end of the poem.