Response to J. A. Burrow’s “Gestures and Looks in Piers Plowman“
Adds to Burrow’s considerations by focusing on “repeated or ongoing gestures” in PPl, such as B.1.79 and 2.1; suggests that the “Angeles out of hevene com knelynge . . . ” (B.19.74), is a “gesture inspired by the visual arts” (rather than a description of angels actually walking on their knees); and then turns to an extended consideration of B.18.231-40; 242-44, where the elements (along with humanity and angels) acknowledge Christ’s divinity through gestures, and where such an acknowledgment itself signals to Peter Christ’s “movement as a command.” Three other points are made, the first having to do with the fact that the narrator describes “his own appearance and movements when he is alone,” often to the effect of creating a “gestural pun” as in the phrase “lened me to a Lenten” (B.18.5): Will both “idles” himself till Lent and, as if spiritually eager, “leans toward Lent” (as in Davlin’s reading). The second uses Fernando Poyatos’s schemes of non-verbal communication (Burrow mentions Poyatos in a note) to read Conscience’s verbal and gestural dismissal of Will’s inquiries into Dowel. The third, which is the concluding point, notes “how little physical contact there is between characters in Piers Plowman,” and when it does occur, it is often sinful.
YLS 14 (2000): 84-89.