The Timelessness of The Simonie
The attempt to “historicize” The Simonie by locating it in a specific fourteenth-century English context is to misunderstand the transhistorical character of the genre of the “Complaint against the Abuses of the Time.” No attempt is made in the later redactions of the poem to make it more topical, since the lack of historical specificity is part of the point: everything is always going to the dogs, greed is always the cause, truth is always the victim. Outrage and indignation are the rhetorical modes of complaint, but they are as conventional and predictable as the subject of complaint. The complaint against abuses generates numberless anecdotes of particular practices of abuse, but their effect is not to subvert the social order but to confirm it. It is not a poem of protest, but a demonstration of God’s justice in allowing evil to flourish in order to punish people’s wickedness. The structure of the poem is not in the conflict between individual self-interest and that of the “national community,” as Turville-Petre has suggested, but in the universal relationship between human sin and divine punishment. The Simonie lacks L’s impetus toward reform, his sense of the possibility of change, as well as his specific analysis of particular kinds of evil-doing.