The Historical Context.
Topical allusions in the three versions are consistent with Kane’s dating of the A, B, and C manuscript traditions to 1368-74, 1377-81, and 1381-85. In general, WL is a chronicler of social change who, rather than resisting such change, defines how the individual should respond to it. Centering the poem on a plowman (whose meaning is extended by WL to all peasant laborers) appears to invert the traditional model of society; and WL’s frequent use of feudal metaphors as a paradigm for the relationship of man to God insists on the necessity of truth as a Christian value for all social classes. The mercede addition in C.3.286-406 shows that WL believed the feudal principles of truth could and should be transferred into a wage economy such as developed after the Black Death. Similarly, criticisms of the clergy (resembling in some instances those of Wyclif) emphasize individual rather than institutional methods of reform. WL represents the social crisis as a conflict between Meed, in the sense of aristocratic self-interest, and Conscience; he is unusual in criticizing the Hundred Years’ War itself, rather than those responsible for the English defeats. Consistent with the Mirror for Princes tradition, WL stresses the importance of loyal and honest counselors to the king. With his characteristic stress on the individual, he presents (B.4) the king’s own conscience and reason as his true counselors in the administration of justice.