Writing Masculinity in the Later Middle Ages
PPl has often been considered as evidence for late-medieval attitudes to women, but the poem’s specular masculinism also makes it a valuable source for considering a concomitant set of attitudes toward men and appropriate masculine conduct. This chapter is part of a larger study of the interconnectedness of work and sexuality in late-medieval society after the Black Death, and argues that PPl often explicitly, but also subtextually, interweaves the themes of labour and sexual conduct in its discussion of masculine propriety. This chapter tracks the altering arguments in the poem’s several versions but also interrogates L’s mercurial treatments of authoritative writings on marriage. In particular it argues that L makes transformative use of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in part finding his Do-Well and Do-Bet categories — rendered as ‘bene facit’ and ‘melius facit’ in the Vulgate Bible — in St Paul’s hierarchy of sexual states. It concludes that the B text is strident and daring on the ethical possibilities of marriage, but that all the poem’s renditions resist an unqualified recitation of St Paul’s preference for virginity. (ID)
Chapter 1, 'The Masculine Ethics of Langland's Piers Plowman ', (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 12–37.