Title Background

Wasting Time, Wasting Words in <i>Piers Plowman</i> B and C.

Wasting Time, Wasting Words in Piers Plowman B and C.

The B and C versions of PPl introduce “a pair of [closely related] moral topics,” the wasting of time and the wasting of words (191). The most extended treatment, for instance, appears in Wit’s speech at B.9.99–106, which describes Dobest, the highest form of good life. The importance of not wasting time or speech is underscored in 5.433–38, whose punctuation in current editions is misleading. Burrow’s construal of B.435, “[I have] wasted many moments of time, both in speaking and in failing to speak,” “has a particular aptness for the confession of Sloth,” since that is the sin under which contemporary penitentials most frequently treat the wastage of time and speech or words (193). After noting other instances of this theme in B, Burrow moves on to consider the more frequent references in the C text. Although the virtues of Dobest are now to be found in Wit’s description of Dowell (C.10.185–88), the theme is further developed through additions of this theme at other places, such as the new passage in C.14.1–10 that replaces Imaginatif’s warning to Will in B.12. Burrow then presents a brief survey of attitudes and discussions of such wastage in various medieval scholastic and intellectual treatments of time and the vices and virtues to underscore the point that for L, time and speech are among the “bona naturalia” created by God for the use of men, and that in squandering these, “man will be called to account, to a confessor on earth and in the afterlife to God himself” (201).


YLS 17 (2003): 191–202.


Burrow, J. A.