Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381. The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Politics 27.
102-39, 231-54 and passim. Walsingham’s report of John Ball’s teaching that “no one was fit for the kingdom of God who was born out of wedlock” becomes understandable in light of Wit’s remarks (B.9.121-201). The charge made by Ball’s audience that Sudbury was a traitor shows the influence of WL’s definition (BWL was probably writing in the West Midlands when, in the C text, he first avowed a London residence. Changes in C show his awareness of the importance of distancing his own voice from Wyclif’s: revisions at C.10.187 ff. defuse the passages from the B text which Ball used. WL’s recommendation in C that bishops become mendicant missionaries is in reaction to the fact that disendowment, since the time of the B text, had become identified with Wyclif. In general, B.9 as revised in C.10 shows the rising as one moment in the history of reform, in an attempt to re-assert WL’s control over his own poem. He suppressed suggestion of authoritatively literate peasants; by excising the violence, rather than the evidences of the rebels’ coherence and planning, he paradoxically left the poem open to a “real, though really attenuated, exchange with the claims of the revolt.” In representing himself as a villein of those from whom he begs, he recognizes, like the rebels, the lordship of empirical communities, which he puts forward as a community of audience constructed by the poem..9.92-94) of idly consuming the world’s goods of Christ’s poor as the act of a traitor. Both Ball and WL employ the vocabulary of labor for the purposes of reform, but whereas Piers wants the nobles to preserve the Church and himself, Ball wants violent revolution. Similarly, Ball’s preachment that all men were created to be equal by nature and that serfdom was an unjust oppression appropriates Wit’s remarks that there is no ontological difference between a king and a serf. The rebels’ letters react to PPl, but in the poem’s terms: their rejection of Piers’s decision to leave home for pilgrimage, then to stay and give up plowing, rejects the ethic of penance and the theology of pain. By enjoining Piers to stay at home and till his fields they ally themselves with Truth against WL. For the rebels Piers epitomizes Wyclif’s “undefined but symbolically indispensable rural poor.” Piers, who can read but not write, offers a defective model of authority without traditional learning to a literate audience; that the rebels identify authorship with Piers, rather than Will, rejects the idea of the poem as inquiry in favor of shared values of what is “good” and “better.”
Rev. Christopher Dyer, YLS 9 (1995): 163-69; Curtis Gruenler, Comitatus 26 (1995): 118-24; Derek Pearsall, MÆ 64 (1995): 319-21; David C. Fowler, Review 18 (1996): 1-30 (no. 278); Mark Amsler, SAC 19 (1997): 258-66.
Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1994.