The Necessity of Difference: The Speech of Peace and the Doctrine of Contraries in Langland’s Piers Plowman
Analyses the lines in C. 20 which tell the story of the debate of the daughters of God: Peace, Righteousness, Truth, and Mercy. L is perhaps the only medieval writer to have the debate take place near the gates of hell, immediately before its harrowing. The focus is Peace’s argument in lines 208f., which depends upon the idea that the original happiness of human beings in the Garden of Eden was provided so they would understand the character of sorrow, and also upon the idea that God assumed humanity so he would understand the suffering of human beings. These notions are unique in being combined by L with the doctrine of the Atonement. In seeking an explanation for L’s originality with respect to God’s ungodlike desire to learn, Pearsall entertains the view that Peace’s testimony is unreliable; and also the possibility that her unusual outlook is simply the result of the role she occupies in the allegorical dispute with God’s other three daughters. However, he concludes that Peace is attributing to God the lack of the capacity to experience compassion, and contending that he passed through the Incarnation so he could have ‘fellow-feeling’ with human beings (p. 165).