The Multiple Modes of The Parlement of the Thre Ages and Piers Plowman
Features sections called ‘Judgment Postponed’ (pp. 109–30) on the C version of PPl, and ‘Affective Hermeneutics in MS Douce 104’, on a near-contemporary’s response to the poem. What appears as ‘open-endedness’ in, for instance, the closing lines of the poem can be explained through recourse to the concept of the via positiva. The sense in which PPl seems to ‘circle’, offering a near-endless succession of detail without any apparent synthesis, and the fact that this places the reader within the interpretive process, reflect the ’emotive path’ to judgement. The reader’s participation in the process of judgement implies hope that judgement may be accessible to each individual and the acknowledgement that material concerns may prevent it. The presiding structure of PPl echoes the Ockhamist idea that human beings can never comprehend universals, but only particulars. The ending is not ‘ambivalent’, but rather a fully realized interpretation of the contradictory impulses of human nature. The section on MS Douce 104 argues that its illustrator takes up L’s challenge to read affectively: this programme of illustration constitutes a complex meditation on the poem and on the theme of sloth and despair. Suggesting that the clerk on folio 63r is Will, Lowe suggests that the artist draws inspiration from his own responses to the poem, not from specific passages of its text. The images serve to challenge thought, not convey it.