Title Background

School and Scorn: Gender in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

School and Scorn: Gender in Piers Plowman.

The author expands on some claims in his earlier work, specifically the assertion that “Will needs antifeminist discourse to reassert his resemblance to the male.” In PPl, the poet imputes to Will’s interlocutors, many of whom are of course gendered feminine, the kinds of violence represented by male grammar school masters, as described in statutes (such as those of the school at Wotton-under-Edge) and in later texts called “Vulgaria.” In these texts, references to corrective rods, the implements of emasculation, abound; so, too, does an antifeminist rhetoric against marriage, in which women are imagined to be the bane of clerks (in-the-making and otherwise). Meanwhile, the poet also characterizes Will as something like an unruly grammar boy, refusing to absorb instruction immediately, and hence in obvious need of rebarbative speech and emasculation, as witnessed in the hitherto unappreciated puns on “penis”in C.5.33-47 and in Will’s “desirable maiming”at the end of the poem (B.20.193-98; 207-08). Time and again, the poet recollects the gendering of male identity at the scene of scornful grammatical instruction. This can only mean that in PPl “maleness is particularly insecure.”