The ‘Hungry Gap ‘ Crop Failure,’ Crop Failure, and Famine: The Fourteenth-Century Agricultural Crisis and Piers Plowman.
PPl illustrates three commonly distinguished degrees of inadequacy of the food supply in peasant societies. First, the “hungry gap,” or summer depletion of the year’s stock of cereals, is referred to in B.14.156-59, 173-77, and is dramatized in the scene with Hunger that follows the plowing of the half-acre. Second, the “bad year,” when the harvest was markedly below normal, is represented in Anima’s lament on the breakdown of weather prophecy (B. 15.355-69), and although WL’s ultimate explanation of bad weather is that it is a punishment for sins, his sense of bewilderment is nonetheless apparent. Third, the terrible reality of actual famines (such as that of 1369-70) is recalled by Haukyn in B.13.263-70. While WL understood the “uneasy balance of the food supply,” he could not adequately distinguish “wastours” from those dislocated by famine, though his sensitivity to the injustice of famine may account for his critical attitude toward wandering, unlicensed preachers and unproductive members of the knightly class, as well as the importance he places on work and patience.