Title Background

`Yernen to Rede Redels?’: <i>Piers Plowman</i> and Prophecy.

`Yernen to Rede Redels?’: Piers Plowman and Prophecy.

PPl is prophetic only in the general biblical sense of “forthtelling” and apocalyptic only within the orthodox eschatological tradition that posited doomsday to follow the final attack of the Antichrist and the other signs of the end. The poem does not reflect any optimistic apocalypticism that envisions repristination of church and society, or any new reformist apocalypticism influenced by Joachim of Fiore, Hildegard of Bingen and other visionaries, or that of Wycliffite texts. Although PPl occasionally echoes Revelation, it differs radically from it in the characterization and situation of the dreamer/visionary and the nature of that which is seen. There is little or no interest in secular/political British prophecy, while the occasional influence of astrological prophecy is seen in generalized warnings of God’s displeasure rather than in indications of specific events. Millenarianism, not synonymous with apocalypticism, rightly refers to the belief in the actual establishment of a millennial society; PPl, rather than anticipating any such society in the future, portrays the inception of the millennium in the past and its conclusion in the imminent future, with the attack of Antichrist (B 20). When prophecies are fulfilled in the poem, they are based on biblical prophecy or orthodox belief; moreover, their fulfillment occurs in a dream, not waking life. Dream conventions do not impart authoritative sanction, and WL, who never connects himself to any prophetic figure and does not link the roles of poet and prophet, emphasizes the ambiguous and unstable nature of dreams. True divine inspiration impels the prophet to action; by this test, too, Will’s visions are found to be terribly lacking.

Volume

YLS 7 (1993): 27-76.

Author

Emmerson, Richard K.