Will and the Law of Property in Piers Plowman
Drawing heavily on Bracton’s On the Laws and Customs of England (c. 1260), WL deploys “will” both as the psychological faculty of voluntas (embodied by the Dreamer) and the legal document of bequest in order to explore the nature of possession. Natural law (WL’s “reson”) and ius gentium (the law of man; “kynde wit”) operate in concert to ratify individual ownership of property as divinely ordained. Piers’s “will” in passus 6 follows the conventional pattern of fourteenth-century wills, but the treatment of spiritual faculties as corporeal chattel, as when Piers bequeaths his soul to God, is intended to certify the faculty of “will” (voluntas) as the place where the spiritual and the tangible combine. The two aspects of will as faculty and document reflect WL’s desire to impose measure and order on language, as witnessed by his constant revisions and reconsideration of his profession as poet.
YLS 10 (1996): 23-41.