The England of Piers Plowman: William Langland and His Vision of the Fourteenth Century.
An introduction to the poem (generally the B text), considered as illustrative of fourteenth-century society. WL lived c.1330-86; may have been educated in Oxford or a monastic school; did not go on to major orders for want of patronage; at some later point probably married; reached an impasse in middle age over questions of divine arbitrariness in granting salvation, God’s evident unpredictability, and the futility of learning; and is partially reflected in the minstrel-figure Haukyn. WL’s views on serfdom are compassionate but tough, tinged with pity but interpreting it as a consequence of original sin. His society is characterized by the indifferent majority’s lack of interest in religion; WL himself was more concerned with the actualities of religion rather than with its forms. WL understood Truth as existing in both speaking and doing; his directions to Truth, founded on the Ten Commandments, are nonetheless concerned with personal gentleness and charity. Dowel, Dobet, Dobest all concern the life of grace, lived by the practice of charity and illustrated in the ministry of Christ. The test of charity is the ability to notice it in others. The multiple identification of Piers Suggests that Christ, Piers, and the ordinary Christian participate in the lives of each other. The end of the poem, rather than apocalyptic prophecy, represents WL’s search for grace and effort that must be renewed; it was written when he saw his own death approaching. WL’s virulent criticism of the friars is unjustified by the historical record.
Rev. Anna Baldwin, MAE 61 (1992): 316-17; Ralph Hanna 111, YLS 6 (1992): 145-46, Derek Pearsall, Medievalia et Humanistica ns 19 (1992): 227-29; P. J. P. Goldberg, History 78 (1993): 296-97; Maurice Keen, EHR 109 (1994): 702-03; Dieter Mehl, Archiv 230 (1993): 168; Kurt-Ulrich Jäschke, Mediaevistik 6 (1993): 500-02.