The Power of Impropriety: Authorial Naming in Piers Plowman
The poet writes Will as an essentially unnameable persona, mostly as a common noun, as a means to “efface the boundaries between author and reader”and instate something of a communal author or subject position, especially in B.8-15. In so far as proper naming immediately imbricates a narrator, protoganist, etc., within identifiable institutional contexts, as both Hoccleve’s Regiment and Gower’s Confessio demonstrate, Will remains an improper name, an impossible name; so, too, does the poem resist “to settle into propriety of authorial name.” In passus 19, for instance, the name of Christ/Jesus does invoke the “historical and institutional sources of penitence,”but in that passus where L imagines a newly unified institution of the church, Will the individual disappears or rather appears as a common Will. Haukyn’s conversion in B.13 presupposes this character’s similar absorption into the common Will. Anima’s speech on the names of the soul (B.15.23-36) happens to be where Will’s self is most fully expressed; the “very moment of unitary regrouping serves, however, to underline the potential fissures in the soul and in Will himself.” L explores other fissures by taking up the commonplace distinctions between “wit”and “will,”as in B.6.125-28 and elsewhere. “Long Will can speak as a long-suffering desire not only because he comes from ‘opelond,’ but more powerfully because he is himself the will, or common voice, of that land.”
Hewett-Smith, Book of Essays . 145-65.