Studying’ in the Middle Ages ” and in Piers Plowman
This essay looks at the links between studying and labor, especially where these two modes are deployed in devotional and penitential contexts, and then broadened into something of an epistemology in its own right, a problem of negotiating, knowing, and experiencing the world. The disciplinary sides of “studying”appear at the very limits of understanding, where instead faith does the work of knowing, where humilitas is felt by the learner, and where lack elicits the desire to continue to know. In the fullest sense, studium and the Middle English studie “signifies ‘a busying about,’ ‘endeavour,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘desire.’ All who desire God are, in this respect, a studiosus, as Augustine had said. PPl is the “most extended exploration of this subject in Middle English.” Its scenes personifying Study are crucial here, in so far they emblematize “the hardships”of studie on Will, the will, wit, and Wit. Meanwhile, Study herself finds institutional versions of learning, theologie especially, problematic: the more theologie is studied, the harder it becomes. This, thinks Study, is a misdirected, vain labor. But beyond these scenes, the poem itself enacts and inhabits at every turn the very issues of studie, as inherited from within Augustinian traditions, such that studie for L is not only an institutional or legal problem, but rather an epistemological one, embodied in the continued misunderstandings and humiliations of Will himself.
New Medieval Literatures 3 (2000): 185-212