The Engaged Spectator: Langland and Chaucer on Civic Spectacle and the Theatrum
L fashions Will as a spectator of urban and royal spectacle, combining in the Prologue the longstanding clerical critique of spectacle with some of the contemporary discourses and practices of pageantry, as instanced in Richard’s reception in London before the coronation, an event which Walsingham portrays as in part involving a golden angel descending from a castle to crown Richard. The Prologue offers something like Richard’s presentation with the procession of the three estates (112-17) but tempers the enthusiasm of pageantry with a critical, and notably clerical, commentary involving advise on proper kingship by the clergial lunatic and the angel or “angel of hevene, a title commonly used to denote a cleric.” That Langland himself means to advise and educate the boy king (and especially his keeper, John of Gaunt) is evident in the fact that immediately after the Prologue presentation comes the fable of the belling of the cat and the rat parliament. Elsewhere, L shows himself critical of pageantry in what appears to be his characterizing Lady Mede “in reaction to Alice Perrers’s appearance as Lady of the Sun in the pageant of 1366” (see A. 2.8-13), though he shows Will himself to be mesmerized, not necessarily edified, by the affair.