Ther Is Moore Mysshapen amonges Thise Beggeres: Discourses of Disability in Piers Plowman
While critics have emphasized the fact that in PPl WL simply merges people with disabilities with beggars, this article suggests that as he revises his text, his discussion of disability becomes more precise and sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and their acceptance by society and God. L uses the descriptions of beggars and individuals with disabilities to exalt the truly disabled, justify their receipt of alms, and provide for his audience both a model of ministry towards people with disabilities and a theological perspective on their circumstances. Critical discussion around beggars has centred on L’s seeming preoccupation with who is justified to beg rather than the identities of the beggars, due primarily to his inclusion among the ‘truly and patient poor’ of faitours—those who feign disabilities in order to beg. Although justified begging does seem to be the focal point of both the A and B texts, in the C text L expresses a hesitancy to separate the faitours from those beggars with true disabilities, an action that implies his growing concern for acceptance of individuals with disabilities as part of the mainstream social and religious community. Through his textual revisions, L begins to recognize disability beyond physical abnormality: in C, L’s discussion of disability is so refined as to include a detailed discussion of those with mental illness alongside those with physical disabilities, who dominated his attention in the A and B texts. The heightened sensitivity with which L treats individuals with disabilities in the C text suggests an ongoing redefining of disability in fourteenth-century England, and L’s text provides evidence against critical assumptions that the late Middle Ages witnessed the devolution of an earlier sympathetic view of people with disabilities into a less sympathetic and more intolerant view. (JMG)
in Disability in the Middle Ages: Reconsiderations and Reverberations, ed. by Joshua R. Eyler (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 119-33.
Gianfalla, Jennifer M.