Truth’s Treasure: Allegory and Meaning in Piers Plowman.
Allegory, often thought of as yielding stable meanings and unequivocal truths, instead demonstrates the inadequacy of its linguistic formulations by challenging the one-to-one correspondence of words and things. PPl is an allegory “of the impossibility of discovering either significance or truth within language.” The reader at first believes that a rational account of the world can be constructed through a translation of one set of terms for another, in Will’s belief that word and thing can coincide to create meaning, but Holy Church undermines any easy faith in the precision of allegorical language. Language in the poem, rather than progressing toward an illumination of divine truth, becomes less referential and more reflexive; each gloss leads to more glossing, and the Dreamer is not enlightened. Yet allegory so understood becomes a mode of faith in the poem in an epistemological exploration of the mystery of the Incarnation.
Finke and Shichtman, eds., Medieval Texts & Contemporay Readers, 51-68.
Finke, Laurie A.