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The Gifts of Fortune Nature, Nature, and Grace and the Structure of <i>Piers Plowman</i> B.XI.

The Gifts of Fortune Nature, Nature, and Grace and the Structure of Piers Plowman B.XI.

The coherence of PPl B.11, the first ‘inner dream’ of the poem, is particularly difficult to determine. In passus 11, Will spends forty-five years in Fortune’s train, is confronted by the emperor Trajan, digresses a bit on the virtue of patient poverty and unlettered priests, and suddenly is snatched by Nature to a high place where he upbraids humankind for failing to live according to Nature’s precepts, and then wakes up. Ruud contends that the structure of the inner dream is based on the conventional medieval triad of the gifts of Fortune, of Grace, and of Nature. While the sections on Fortune and nature are clearly parallel, he contends that the Trajan section is intended to be an illustration of the gifts of Grace (by which Trajan was saved), and that it, like the other two sections of passus 11, is a warning against presumption resulting from pride in God’s gifts. That warning and the examination of the “three gifts” theology are what unify the passus. The article examines the convention of the three kinds of gifts in the fourteenth century, and applies it to passus 11. The tradition of the three gifts allows the reader to see some coherence in passus 11, and explains some apparently random episodes in the text.


Publications of the Medieval Association of the Midwest, 7 (2000), 37-62.


Ruud, Jay