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The Contemplative Matrix of <i>Piers Plowman</i> B.

The Contemplative Matrix of Piers Plowman B.

Although modern critical editions reject the authenticity of PPl’s major structural rubrics (i.e., “Visio,” “Vita de Dowel,” etc.), they are probably genuine. Scribes appear to have confused the architecture of PPl by copying these rubrics haphazardly and by occasionally omitting them. The authorial structure of PPl therefore consists of four pairs of dreams fitted within the four units of “Visio,” “Dowel,” “Dobet,” and “Dobest. ” “Visio” suggests “vision” or “prophetic dream” to the reader but probably refers to “sight” or “act of seeing” (i.e., seeing those things in the world that are visible). “Vita” confused scribes because it invited but failed to fulfill generic expectations appropriate to hagiography. The division of the poem according to a quadripartite scheme is important because it duplicates patterns in contemplative schemata based on Augustine’s theory of vision. Furthermore, WL has constructed in the “Vita” an analogue of the Trinity, one essence (“vita”) and three “persons” (“Dowel,” “Dobet,” and “Dobest”). WL’s strategy is to create the contemplative matrix to enable the reader to see how the Dreamer both resists the natural attraction of God for all men and ignores the vestiges of the Trinity that would resolve all of his questions. WL’s ultimate epistemological sources are the Confessions and De trinitate, but he may have been more directly influenced by Bonaventure’s Itinerarium mentis.


MLQ 46 (1985): 3-28.


Clopper, Lawrence M.