Title Background

Souls that Matter: The Gendering of the Soul in <i>Piers Plowman</i>‘  , 

Souls that Matter: The Gendering of the Soul in Piers Plowman‘  , 

This essay considers L’s two personifications of the soul, Lady Anima in passus 9 and the ambiguously gendered figure of the soul in passus 15, in order to show how L uses gender to underscore the affective, sapiential progress of Will’s understanding of the nature and the function of the soul. It begins with a review of the philosophical model of the soul most likely known to L as well as a discussion of how theologians, from Augustine to Aquinas, understood the soul in terms of gender. The essay then demonstrates L’s use of conventional gender hierarchies in the static personified figure of Lady Anima as a passive courtly love heroine figure inside a castle protected by male figures. The essay then turns to the more complex and dynamic figure of the soul in passus 15, initially presented as an abject figure with no tongue or teeth, of multiple names both male and female, who then becomes a speaker labelled ‘he’. In considering the relationship between the Latin definitions of the soul and the dynamic figure that emerges in the vernacular account of the soul, this essay suggests that that dynamism comes into being through specific aspects of the poetics of the passage including proliferation, juxtaposition, and alliteration. Will’s movement from an encounter with Lady Anima to observation of this abject figure marks a deepening of his affective understanding of the nature of the soul. (ER)