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Encyclopedia > Piers Plowman
Page from a 14th century Psalter, showing drolleries on the right margin and a plowman at the bottom.
Page from a 14th century Psalter, showing drolleries on the right margin and a plowman at the bottom.

Piers Plowman (w. ca. 13601399) or Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is the title of an apocalyptic Middle English allegorical narrative written by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus" (Latin for "step"). Piers is considered one of the early great works of English literature. It is one of a very few Middle English poems that can stand beside Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The poem concerns the narrator's intense quest for the true Christian life, in the terms of the medieval Catholic mind. That quest entails a series of dream-visions and an examination into the lives of three allegorical characters, Do-Wel ("Do-Well"), Do-Bet ("Do-Better"), and Do-Best, who are sought by Piers, the humble plowman of the title. The poem begins on the Malvern Hills in Malvern, Worcestershire. Image File history File links Source: http://www. ... Image File history File links Source: http://www. ... Psalms (Tehilim תהילים, in Hebrew) is a book of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, and of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. ... Page from a 14th century Psalter, showing a drollery on the right margin. ... Events October 24 - The Treaty of Brétigny is ratified at Calais, marking the end of the first phase of the Hundred Years War. ... Events September 30 - Accession of Henry IV of England October 13 - Coronation of Henry IV of England November 1 - Accession of John VI, Duke of Brittany Births William Canynge, English merchant (approximate date; died 1474) Zara Yaqob, Emperor of Ethiopia (died 1468) Deaths January 4 - Nicolau Aymerich, Catalan theologian and... Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion in 1066 and the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the... Langlands Dreamer: from an illuminated initial in a Piers Plowman manuscript held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford William Langland is the conjectured author of the 14th-century English dream-vision Piers Plowman. ... The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse. ... The term English literature refers to literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; Joseph Conrad was Polish, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Edgar Allan Poe was American, Salman Rushdie is Indian. ... Poetry (ancient Greek: poieo = create) is an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content. ... Chaucer: Illustration from Cassells History of England, circa 1902. ... Canterbury Tales Woodcut 1484 The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century (two of them in prose, the rest in verse). ... A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. ... The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. ... An allegory (from Greek αλλος, allos, other, and αγορευειν, agoreuein, to speak in public) is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than and in addition to the literal. ... Malvern Hills in June, looking north. ... General view of Great Malvern, with Malvern Hill in background. ...

Contents


Title and authorship

The most likely (now commonly accepted) candidate for Piers' authorship is a recent scholarly attribution to a William Langland, about whom little is known. This attribution to Langland is based on internal evidence, primarily a seemingly autobiographical section in Passus 5 of the C-text of the poem. The main narrator of the poem in all the versions is named Will, with allegorical resonances clearly intended, and Langland (or Longland) is thought to be indicated as a surname through apparent puns; e.g., the narrator calls himself "long Will" who has lived "long in the land." Langlands Dreamer: from an illuminated initial in a Piers Plowman manuscript held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford William Langland is the conjectured author of the 14th-century English dream-vision Piers Plowman. ... For music albums named Autobiography, see Greek eauton = self, bios = life and graphein = write) is a form of biography, the writing of a life story. ... It has been suggested that Third person limited omniscient be merged into this article or section. ... A pun (also known as paronomasia) is a deliberate confusion of similar-sounding words or phrases for comic or serious effect. ...


In the sixteenth century, when Piers was first printed, authorship was attributed by various antiquarians (such as John Bale) and poets to John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, amongst others. Some sixteenth and seventeenth-century persons regarded the poem as anonymous, and/or associated it with texts in the plowman tradition of social complaint, particularly the Chaucerian pseudepigrapha, The Plowman's Tale and Pierce the Ploughman's Crede. (The latter was appended to Owen Rogers' 1560 edition of Piers Plowman, a degraded version of Robert Crowley's 1550 editions.) The character of Piers himself had come to be considered by many readers to be in some sense the author. An antiquarian or antiquary is one concerned with antiquities or things of the past. ... John Bale (21 November 1495 - November, 1563) was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, Bishop of Ossory. ... John Wycliffe (also Wyclif, Wycliff, or Wickliffe) (c. ... Chaucer: Illustration from Cassells History of England, circa 1902. ... Pseudepigrapha (from the Greek words pseudos = lie and epigrapho = write) is a text or a number of texts whose claimed authorship or authenticity is incorrect. ... There are actually two pseudo-Chaucerian texts called The Plowmans Tale. ... The frontispiece of Reyner Wolfes edition of Pierce the Ploughmans Crede, printed in 1553 Pierce the Ploughmans Crede is an alliterative poem of 855 lines, savagely lampooning the four orders of friars. ... Robert Crowley also Robertus Croleus, Roberto Croleo, Robart Crowleye, and Robarte Crole (c. ...


The first printed editions by Crowley named the author as "Robert Langland" in a prefatory note. Langland is described as a probable protegé of Wycliffe. With Crowley's editions, the poem followed an existing and subsequently repeated convention of titling the poem The Vision of Piers [or Pierce] Plowman, which is in fact the conventional name of just one section of the poem.


Some medievalists and text critics, beginning with John Matthews Manly, have posited multiple authorship theories for Piers, an idea which continues to have a periodic resurgence in the scholarly literature. One scholar now disputes the single-author hypothesis, supposing that the poem may be the work of 2-5 authors, depending upon how authorship is defined. In keeping with contemporary scholarly trends in textual criticism, critical theory, and the history of the book, Charlotte Brewer, among others, suggests that scribes and their supervisors be regarded as editors with semi-authorial roles in the production of Piers Plowman and other early modern texts; but this has nothing to do with Manly's argument. Textual criticism is a branch of philology that examines the extant manuscript copies of an ancient or medieval literary work to produce a text that is as close as possible to the original. ... In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. ... Section Origins and antiquity contains text that needs translation into English. ... Illustration of a 15th century scribe This is about scribe, the profession. ...


The Text

Piers Plowman is considered to be the biggest challenge in Middle English textual criticism, on par with the Greek New Testament. There are 50-56 surviving manuscripts, depending on the number deemed to be fragments. None of these texts are in the author's own hand, and none of them derive directly from any of the others. All differ from each other. Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion in 1066 and the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the... Textual criticism is a branch of philology that examines the extant manuscript copies of an ancient or medieval literary work to produce a text that is as close as possible to the original. ... See New Covenant for the concept translated as New Testament in the KJV. The New Testament, sometimes called the Greek Testament or Greek Scriptures, and, in recent times, also New Covenant, is the name given to the part of the Christian Bible that was written in the first centuries of... A manuscript (Latin manu scriptus written by hand), strictly speaking, is any written document that is put down by hand, in contrast to being printed or reproduced some other way. ...


All modern discussion of the text revolves around the classifications of W. W. Skeat. Skeat argued that there are as many as ten forms of the poem, but only three are to be considered "authoritative—the A, B, and C-texts—although the definition of "authoritative" in this context is surely problematic. According to the three-version hypothesis, each version represents different manuscript traditions deriving from three distinct and successive stages of authorial revision. Although precise dating is debated, the A, B, and C texts are now commonly thought of as the progressive (20-25 yrs.) work of a single author. Walter William Skeat (November 21, 1835 - 1912), English philologist, was born in London on the 21st of November 1835, and educated at Kings College, Highgate Grammar School, and Christs College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in July 1860. ...


According to the three versions hypothesis, the A-text was written ca. 1367-70 and is the earliest. It is considered unfinished and runs to about 2500 lines. The B-text (Warner's ur-B text) was written ca. 1377-79; it revises A, adds new material, and is three times the length of A. It runs to about 7300 lines. The C-text was written in the 1380s as a major revision of B, except the final sections. There is some debate over whether it can be regarded as finished or not. It entails additions, omissions, and transpositions; it is not significantly different in size from B. Some scholars see it as a conservative revision of B that aims at disassociating the poem from Lollardy and the religious and political radicalism of John Ball during the Great Rising of 1381. (Ball appropriated Piers and other characters in the poem for his own verses, speeches, and letters during the Rising.) There is little actual evidence for this proposal, and much against it. Events Battle of Najera, Peter I of Castile restored as King. ... Events January 17 – Gregory XI enters Rome. ... Events September 8 - Battle of Kulikovo - Russian forces under Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich defeat a mixed army of Tatars and Mongols (the Golden Horde), stopping their advance at Kulikovo. ... John Wyclif gives his Bible translation to Lollards Lollardy or Lollardry was the political and religious movement of the Lollards from the late 14th century to early in the time of the English Reformation. ... John Ball (d. ... The end of the revolt: Wat Tyler killed by Walworth while Richard II watches, and a second image of Richard addressing the crowd The Peasants Revolt, Tyler’s Rebellion or Great Rising of 1381 was one of a number of popular revolts in late medieval Europe and is a major...


Skeat believed that the A-text was incomplete and based his editions on a B-text manuscript (Oxford, MS. Laud Misc. 581) that he wrongly thought was probably a holograph. Modern editors following Skeat, such as George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson, have maintained the basic tenets of Skeat's work: there were three final authorial texts, now lost, that can be reconstructed, albeit imperfectly and without certainty, by rooting out the "corruption" and "damage" done by scribes. Walter William Skeat (November 21, 1835 - 1912), English philologist, was born in London on the 21st of November 1835, and educated at Kings College, Highgate Grammar School, and Christs College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow in July 1860. ... A holograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of the person whose signature it bears. ...


The Kane, Kane-Donaldson, and Russell-Kane editions of the three versions, published by the Athlone Press, have been controversial, but are among the most important accomplishments in modern editorial work and theory. A. V. C. Schmidt has also published editions of A, B, and C; the promised second volume containing a full textual apparatus indicating his editorial decisions has not yet been published. For now, Schmidt's edition, while invaluable for classroom use and for a different perspective on the poem's textual history, is of less use to textual scholars working on the poem and who require a critical edition.


A. G. Rigg and Charlotte Brewer hypothesized the existence of a Z-text predecessor to A which contains elements of both A and C. The Z-text is based on Oxford MS. Bodley 851, which Rigg and Brewer edited and published. It is the shortest version, and its authenticity is disputed. Ralph Hanna III has convincingly disputed the Rigg/Brewer approach based on codicological evidence and internal literary evidence; consequently the Z-text is now more commonly viewed as a scribal corruption of A with C elements. More recently, Lawrence Warner has shown that what we have thought of as B in fact incorporates matter produced as part of the C-revision: if B circulated before C, it looked nothing like what had been assumed. Codicology is the study of a codex, an older handwritten book. ...


There are some scholars who dispute the ABC chronology of the texts altogether, Jill Mann foremost amongst them. There is also a (minority) school of thought that two authors contributed to the three versions of the poem. Neither of these reappraisals of the textual tradition of the poem are generally seen as very robust.


Editorial, Publication and Reception History

14th-15th Centuries

John Ball, a priest involved as a leader in the Great Rising of 1381 (also known as the Peasants' Revolt), included Piers and other characters in his writings. If Piers Plowman already had perceived associations with Lollardy, Ball's appropriations from it enhanced his and its association with the Lollards as well. The real beliefs and sympathies at work in Langland's poem and the revolt remain, for this reason, mysterious and debatable. John Ball (priest) (d. ... The end of the revolt: Wat Tyler killed by Walworth while Richard II watches, and a second image of Richard addressing the crowd The Peasants Revolt, Tyler’s Rebellion or Great Rising of 1381 was one of a number of popular revolts in late medieval Europe and is a major... John Wyclif gives his Bible translation to Lollards Lollardy or Lollardry was the political and religious movement of the Lollards from the late 14th century to early in the time of the English Reformation. ...


No doubt because of Ball's writings, the Dieulacres Abbey Chronicle account of the revolt refers to Piers, seemingly as a real person who was a leader with Ball in the revolt. Similarly, early in the history of the poem's dissemination in manuscript form, Piers is often treated as the author of the poem. Since it is hard to see how this is credible, to those who read the poem, perhaps the idea was that Piers was a mask for the author. Or, as the ideal character of the poem, Piers might be seen as a kind of alter-ego for the poet that was more important to his early readers than the obviously authorial narrator and his apparent self-disclosures as Will. Ironically, Will's name and identity were substantially lost.


In some contemporary chronicles of the Rising, Ball and the Lollards were blamed for the revolt, and Piers began to be associated with heresy and rebellion. The earliest literary works comprising the Piers Plowman tradition follow in the wake of these events, although they and their sixteenth-century successors are not anti-monarchical or supportive of rebellion. Like William Langland, who may have written the C-Text version of Piers Plowman to disassociate himself from the Rising, they look for the reform of the English church and society by the removal of abuses in what the authors' deem a restorative rather than an innovative project. Heresy, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the Catholic or Orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox. ...


16th–18th centuries

The most conspicuous omissions from William Caxton's press were the Bible and Piers Plowman. Both may have been avoided for political reasons—e.g., Wycliffite associations. It is possible that Piers may have been banned from print under prohibitions against histories, but this is uncertain; the language and meter might also have been obstacles. However, as in the case of Adrian Fortescue, as late as 1532, hand-copying of Piers manuscripts was still going on, and a staunch Roman Catholic like Fortescue could appreciate it as a critical, reformist but not a revolutionary, Protestant text. William Caxton (c. ... Wycliffe may also refer to Wycliffe Bible Translators John Wycliff (or Wycliffe) (1328 - December 31, 1384) was an English theologian and early proponent of reform in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. ...


Robert Crowley's 1550 editions of Piers Plowman present the poem as a social-gospelling Protestant's goad to the reformation of religion and society. The poem's publication probably did have resonance. Many texts evoke Piers and/or Plowmen for reforming purposes: one of the Marprelate tracts claims Piers Plowman for its grandfather. Robert Crowley also Robertus Croleus, Roberto Croleo, Robart Crowleye, and Robarte Crole (c. ... The Marprelate Controversy was a war of pamphlets waged in England and Wales in 1588 and 1589, between a puritan writer who employed the pseudonym Martin Marprelate, and defenders of the Established Church. ...


Many scholars, and the new ODNB, assert that Piers Plowman was a banned book, that it was published as "propaganda" for reformist interests backed by Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset or other high-placed aristocrats, and that Crowley added interpretive glosses and substantially altered the text of the poem for propaganda purposes. These inferences exceed the evidence, even if Piers Plowman was politically sensitive, as many books were in the Tudor period. The political nature of the poem—its mention of and association with popular rebellion—would obviously be unacceptable to the king, Somerset, and others, reform-minded though they were. In the passus summaries in the second and third editions, Crowley emphasizes material in the poem warning of political instability and widespread corruption when the king is a child (as was then the case); hardly state-sponsored propaganda. Other contemporary Edwardian and later Elizabethan publications by Crowley show that he was at this time concerned that the elite was using the Reformation to gain power and wealth, while the common people suffered economic and spiritual malnourishment. The Dictionary of National Biography (or DNB) is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history. ... Many societies have banned certain books. ... The Most Noble Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (c. ...


Piers Plowman likely functioned for Crowley as a reformist text with polemic and prophetic qualities (although he denies the latter in his preface), but the text and apparatus do not overtly convey that impression. Some of Crowley's marginal glosses and his passus summaries are clearly polemical, but there are very few glosses (and no passus summaries) in the first edition. The assertion of propagandistic editorial intervention by Crowley exaggerates both his glosses, and the evidence that he deliberately deleted "Catholic" elements of Langland's poem--i.e., a few references to purgatory, transubstantiation, and some praise for monasticism. In the second and third editions, where the glosses were substantially increased, almost half are biblical citations.


Several scholarly sources claim that Crowley deleted 13 lines (N2r, B.10.291-303) praising monasticism. This idea first appears in an unpublished dissertation as a misreading of W. W. Skeat's parallel text edition of Piers Plowman. The error was repeated in John N. King's influential English Reformation Literature, p. 331. J. R. Thorne and Marie-Claire Uhart noted King's error by pointing out that the supposedly deleted passage does not appear in most extant manuscripts of the poem and was in all likelihood not in Crowley's source texts. ("Robert Crowley's Piers Plowman," Medium Aevum 55.2 (1986): 248-55. Walter W. Skeat was an early twentieth century British writer and scholar. ...


Crowley may have made small attempts to remove or soften single references to transubstantiation, the Mass, purgatory, and the Virgin Mary as a mediator and object of devotion. He also appears to have added a line against clerical pluralism--a vice he often attacked and may have eventually indulged in personally--as it appears in no extant manuscripts of Piers Plowman. However, in regard to purgatory, Crowley left almost a dozen other references to it in the poem. And in the case of Mary, Crowley left at least three significant references to her in the poem. He actually added a line to his second and third editions that clearly refers to Marian intercession (F1r). Thorne and Uhart note that in the manuscript tradition, "Christ" frequently replaces "Mary," so again Crowley may be following his source texts rather than deviating from them, though he certainly may have preferred sources that de-emphasized Mary. Transubstantiation is the belief held by the Roman Catholic Church that the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus during Consecration. ... Mass is the term used of the celebration of the Eucharist in the various liturgical rites of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, and in some Lutheran regions which are largely High Church: the main Lutheran service is still known as the... The term purgatory is generally defined as the means by which the elect reach perfection before entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. The term purgatory in accordance with Catholic teaching, is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in Gods grace are not... The term Virgin Mary has several different meanings: Mary, the mother of Jesus, the historical and multi-denominational concept of Mary Blessed Virgin Mary, the Roman Catholic theological and doctrinal concept of Mary Marian apparitions shrines to the Virgin Mary Virgin Mary in Islam, the Islamic theological and doctrinal concept... Originally a benefice was a gift of land (precaria) for life as a reward for services rendered. ... Saint Mary and Saint Mary the Virgin both redirect here. ...


Crowley's first edition--aimed at the Latin-reading elite--was followed by subsequent editions. Crowley may have been financed by wealthy and highly-placed Protestants, perhaps even some who had the power to relax restrictions on the press at the end of Edward VI's reign. The first edition may have had little or only partial commercial success with a very small audience, and this would not necessarily preclude the production of further editions. Less than stellar sales and/or the limitations of a small market might have motivated the shift to a different audience in the later editions. It is probable that among the middle and lower classes it had some significance; this is supported by the contemporary proliferation of texts that responded to it; e.g.: Thomas Churchyard's. The poem's obscure record may have had something to do with Crowley's radical politics, and the prophetic/apocalyptic aspects of his edition. Edward Tudor redirects here; for another (though unlikely) Edward Tudor, see a putative younger son of Henry VII of England, who, if existed, would be the uncle of this Edward Edward VI (12 October 1537–6 July 1553) was King of England and King of Ireland from 28 January 1547... Thomas Churchyard (c. ...


There is, at any rate, strong evidence that Crowley's editions did not have much of an impact on Latin-literate, elite audiences. After 1550, it was not printed again until 1813 except for Owen Rogers' 1561 edition--a cheap knock-off of Crowley's text that omits the preface naming the author while adding--in some cases--Pierce the Ploughman's Crede. The few people who mention Piers Plowman before 1700 usually attribute it to someone other than Langland, and often it is unclear if they are referring to Langland's poem or one of the many other texts circulating in print as part of the Piers Plowman Tradition, particularly The Plowman's Tale. Since Piers was conflated with the author and dreamer-narrator of the poem at an early date, "Piers Plowman" or a Latin equivalent is often given as the name of the author, which indicates complete unfamiliarity with--or else silent incredulity toward--Crowley's preface. The frontispiece of Reyner Wolfes edition of Pierce the Ploughmans Crede, printed in 1553 Pierce the Ploughmans Crede is an alliterative poem of 855 lines, savagely lampooning the four orders of friars. ... The Piers Plowman tradition is made up of about 14 different poetic and prose works from about the time of John Ball and the Great Rising of 1381 through the reign of Elizabeth I. Their chief common trait is their more or less intentional association with William Langlands poem... There are actually two pseudo-Chaucerian texts called The Plowmans Tale. ...


Aside from Raphael Holinshed who merely quotes John Bale, the only sixteenth-century references to "Robert Langland" as the author of Piers Plowman come from Bale and Crowley in his preface to the various impressions. In 1580 John Stow attributed Piers Plowman to "John Malvern," a name that surfaces again with John Pits in 1619 and Anthony à Wood in 1674. Wood also supplied "Robertus de Langland" as a possible alternative, and Henry Peacham attributed the poem to John Lydgate in 1622. Except for Crowley and Francis Meres (who simply cribs Webbe) William Webbe is the only person to comment on the alliterative Piers Plowman favorably, since he disliked verse with "the curiosity of Ryme." However, Webbe still disparaged the poem's harsh and obscure language. Several other writers regard the poem's matter approvingly, seeing it as anti-Catholic satire and polemic. Raphael Holinshed (died c. ... John Bale (21 November 1495 - November, 1563) was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, Bishop of Ossory. ... John Stow (c. ... Anthony Wood or Anthony à Wood (December 17, 1632 - November 28, 1695) was an English antiquary. ... Henry Peacham is the name shared by two English Renaissance writers who were father and son. ... John Lydgate (1370?-1451?); Monk and poet, born in Lidgate, Suffolk, England. ... Francis Meres (1565 - January 29, 1647), was an English churchman and author. ... William Webbe (born 1550) was a critic and translator. ... Satire is a literary technique of writing or art which exposes the follies of its subject (for example, individuals, organizations, or states) to ridicule, often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. ... Look up Polemic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary Polemic is the art or practice of inciting disputation or causing controversy, for example in religious, philosophical, or political matters. ...


The Plowman's Tale was printed more and over a longer period of time than Piers Plowman; it was also printed as a Chaucerian text and included in many editions of Chaucer and mentioned as a familiar text in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Such associations gave it far more exposure--and positive exposure--than Piers Plowman. Yet in many cases it seems that readers read or heard of The Plowman's Tale or another plowman text and thought it was Piers Plowman. (E.g., John Leland, William Prynne, possibly John Milton, and John Dryden.) Given the diffusion of different Piers/Plowman texts, it is usually not possible to be certain about what someone means to refer to when they mention "Piers Plowman" unless they provide specific identifying details--and most writers do not. The Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe (first published by John Day in 1563, with many subsequent editions, also by Day), is an apocalyptically oriented English Protestant account of the persecutions of Protestants, mainly in England, and other groups from former centuries who were deemed by Foxe and others of... John Leland (September 13, 1502–April 18, 1552) was an English antiquary. ... William Prynne (1600 - October 24, 1669) was a Puritan opponent of the church policy of Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. ... John Milton, English poet John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674) was an English poet, best-known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. ... John Dryden John Dryden (August 19, 1631 – May 12, 1700) was an influential English poet, literary critic, and playwright. ...


When Langland's poem is mentioned, it is often disparaged for its barbarous language. Similar charges were made against Chaucer, but he had more defenders and was already well established as a historical figure and "authority." Despite the work of Bale and Crowley, Langland's name appears to have remained unknown or unaccepted since other authors were suggested after Crowley's editions. Sometimes "Piers Plowman" was referred to as the author of the poem, and when writers refer to a list of medieval authors, they will often mention Piers Plowman as an author's name or a substitute for one. One gets the overall impression that Langland and Piers Plowman had less existence as author and text than did the fictional figure of Piers, whose relationship to a definite authorial and textual origin had been obscured much earlier.


Crowley's (or Rogers') edition may have reached Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, John Milton, and John Bunyan, but no records, citations, borrowed lines, or clear allusions to Piers Plowman exist in their writings. Spenser and Milton do directly refer to The Plowman's Tale. Milton quotes two stanzas from it in Of Reformation, attributing it to Chaucer, and he makes another allusion in An Apology for a Pamphlet that could be to Piers Plowman but is more likely to The Plowman's Tale. Spenser liberally borrows from The Plowman's Tale in The Shepheardes Calendar, also attributing it to Chaucer. Raphael Holinshed briefly refers to it in his Chronicles, borrowing from Bale. John Stow refers to it but attributes it to a John Malvern. William Webbe refers to its "quantitative" meter and language approvingly, but his knowledge of the poem is indirect. Francis Meres later repeated Webbe's remarks. Abraham Fraunce mentions Piers Plowman, but he merely repeats the identifying features printed in Crowley's preface and Bale's indices. George Puttenham, calls it a satire in his Arte of English Poesie, noting its obscure language unapprovingly. Others of this era also regarded Piers Plowman as a satire; perhaps the other plowman texts typically associated with it contributed to this generic classification. Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (c. ... Michael Drayton (1563- December 23, 1631) was an English poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era. ... John Milton, English poet John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674) was an English poet, best-known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. ... John Bunyan. ... The Shepheardes Calendar was Edmund Spensers first attempt at poetry. ... Abraham Fraunce (c. ... George Puttenham (d. ...


Samuel Pepys owned a copy of Piers Plowman. A Crowley edition owned in 1613 by an educated English Catholic, Andrew Bostoc, has its owner's notes responding to Crowley's in the margins, refuting them from the text itself, discriminating between the editor and the author/text. Milton cites "Chaucer's Plowman" in "Of Reformation" (1641) when he is discussing poems that have described Constantine as a major contributor to the corruption of the church. The end of Piers Plowman, Passus 15, makes this point at length--but it is also made briefly in one stanza in The Plowman's Tale (ll. 693-700). In "An Apology for a Pamphlet..." Milton refers to The Vision and Crede of Pierce Plowman, which might mean one or both of these texts. Perhaps it refers to Rogers' 1561 edition which put them together. Edmund Bolton argued for the language of the court as the appropriate language for writing history. For Bolton, Spenser's Hymns are good models, but the rest of his poems are not--and neither are those of "Jeff. Chaucer, Lydgate, Peirce Ploughman, or Laureat Skelton." John Pits (1619) attributes Piers Plowman to John Malvern, Henry Peacham (1622) attributes it to Lydgate. Henry Selden (1622) appears to have read the poem closely enough to admire it for its criticism of the church as well as its judgment and invention. He gives the author as Robert Langland. John Weever (1631) also names Robert Langland, as does David Buchanan (1652). Buchanan, however, makes Langland a Scot and attributes other works to him aside from Piers Plowman. Thomas Fuller (1662) bases his remarks about Langland on Selden and Bale, emphasizing Langland's proto-Protestant status. Fuller also notes that The Praier and Complaynte of the Ploweman unto Christe was "first set forth by Tindal, since, exemplified by Mr. Fox." Since the language of this text is similar to that of Piers Plowman, Fuller attributes it to Langland as well. Anthony à Wood mentions both Malvern and Langland as author names. Thomas Dudley, father of Anne Dudley Bradstreet (1612-72), brought a copy of Crowley's Piers Plowman to America. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) owned a copy of Rogers' reprint of Crowley's edition of Piers Plowman with the Crede appended, and Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848) wrote in his Amenities of Literature that Pope had "very carefully analyzed the whole" of the latter text. D'Israeli also mentions Lord Byron's (1788-1824) praise for Piers Plowman. This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Edmund Bolton (1575?-1633?), English historian and poet, was born by his own account in 1575. ... John Weever (1576 - 1632), English poet and antiquary was a native of Lancashire. ... Thomas Fuller (1608 - August 16, 1661) was an English churchman and historian. ... The Praier and Complaynte of the Ploweman unto Christe: written not longe after the yere of our Lorde. ... Sculpted Head Of William Tyndale from St Dunstan-in-the-West Church London William Tyndale (sometimes spelled Tindale) (ca. ... John Foxe, line engraving by George Glover, first published in the 1641 edition of Actes and Monuments John Foxe (1516–April 8, 1587) is remembered as the author of the famous Foxes Book of Martyrs. ... Anthony Wood or Anthony à Wood (December 17, 1632 - November 28, 1695) was an English antiquary. ... Thomas Dudley (October 12, 1576–July 31, 1653) was a colonial magistrate who served several terms as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. ... Anne Bradstreet (ca. ... Alexander Pope, an English poet best known for his Essay on Criticism and Rape of the Lock Pope, circa 1727. ... Isaac DIsraeli in a portrait from 1797. ... Lord Byron, English poet Lord Byron (1803), as painted by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824) was the most widely read English language poet of his day. ...


19th–20th Centuries

With its old language and alien worldview, Piers Plowman fell into obscurity until the nineteenth century, particularly the latter end. Barring Rogers, after Crowley, the poem was not published in its entirety until Thomas Whitaker's 1813 edition. It emerged at a time when amateur philologists began the groundwork of what would later become a recognized scholarly discipline. Whitaker's edition was based on a C-text, whereas Crowley used a B-text for his base.


With Whitaker an editorial tradition truly began in the modern sense, with each new editor striving to present the "authentic" Piers Plowman and challenging the accuracy and authenticity of preceding editors and editions. Then, as before in the English Reformation, this project was driven by a need for a national identity and history that addressed present concerns, hence analysis and commentary typically reflected the critic's political views. In the hands of Frederick Furnivall and W. W. Skeat, Piers Plowman could be, respectively, a consciousness-raising text in the Working Man's College or a patriotic text for grammar school pupils. Frederick James Furnivall (February 4, 1825 - July 2, 1910), English philologist and editor, cocreator of the Oxford English Dictionary and founder of literary societies. ... A grammar school is a type of school found in some English-speaking countries. ...


Piers Plowman has often been read primarily as a political document. In an 1894 study, J. J. Jusserand was primarily concerned with what he saw as the poem's psychological and sociopolitical content--as distinct from the aesthetic or literary--in a dichotomy common to all modern humanistic studies. Four years later Vida Dutton Scudder compared the poem with socialist ideas from the works of Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, and the Fabians. According to Michael Drout, a Mediaeval manuscript expert and editor of one of J.R.R. Tolkiens booka, Jean Jacques Jusserands criticisms was greatly despised by Tolkien. ... The most familiar view of Carlyle is as the bearded sage with a penetrating gaze. ... Upper: Steel-plate engraving of Ruskin as a young man, made circa 1845, scanned from print made circa 1895. ... The Fabian Society is a British socialist intellectual movement best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning in the late 19th century and then up to World War I. Similar societies exist in Australia and New Zealand. ...


Introduced to the emerging university programs for English language and literature, Piers Plowman helped round out the English literary canon. Professional scholars are needed to explain it. Yet Piers Plowman and much other Middle English and Anglo-Saxon literature has lacked broad appeal. The Western canon is a canon of books and art (and specifically one with very loose boundaries) that has allegedly been highly influential in shaping Western culture. ...


Related texts

Poem on the Evil Times of Edward II, also known as The Simonie and Symonie and Couetise. ... The frontispiece of Reyner Wolfes edition of Pierce the Ploughmans Crede, printed in 1553 Pierce the Ploughmans Crede is an alliterative poem of 855 lines, savagely lampooning the four orders of friars. ... There are actually two pseudo-Chaucerian texts called The Plowmans Tale. ... The Pilgrims Tale is significantly connected with The Plowmans Tale and remains the most mysterious of the pseudo-Chaucerian texts. ... Jack of The North identifies an otherwise untitled, short dialogue responding to and supporting anti-enclosure actions in Cambridgeshire in 1549, the year before Ketts Rebellion. ...

See also

The Piers Plowman tradition is made up of about 14 different poetic and prose works from about the time of John Ball and the Great Rising of 1381 through the reign of Elizabeth I. Their chief common trait is their more or less intentional association with William Langlands poem... Noah and the baptismal flood of the Old Testament (top panel) is typographically linked (prefigured) by the baptism of Jesus in the New Testament (bottom panel). ...

External links

  • Piers Plowman Electronic Archive A multi-level, hyper-textually linked electronic archive of the textual tradition of all three versions of the fourteenth-century allegorical dream vision Piers Plowman.
  • University of Virginia e-text of Piers Plowman.
  • William Langland page at Harvard. With link to modern English text of Piers.
  • William Langland page at Luminatium. With links to texts of A and B.
  • Daniel F. Pigg, "Figuring subjectivity in 'Piers Plowman C' and 'The Parson's Tale' and 'Retraction': authorial insertion and identity poetics," Style, Fall 1997. Abstract: In Chaucer's Parson's Tale, Retraction, and Langland's C.5, the authors engage in a homologue to confession by which they inscribe their identities in their texts and become themselves the subjects of poetic reflection. The "autobiographical" passage which opens passus 5 combines autobiographical and confessional modes to reintegrate the penitent subject -- both "Will" and WL -- into the body of the Church. The Retraction is similarly to be understood as Chaucer's sincere questioning of his own "entente," the key action required of the penitent in the confessional. His deployment of both clerical and literary discourses in the Retraction demonstrates that the subject cannot be separated from institutions.
  • Piers Plowman and the Rising of 1381.
  • Piers Plowman and Its Sequence by John Matthews Manly, vol. 2, The End of the Middle Ages," in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, 18 vols., Edited by A. W. Ward & A. R. Waller, (1907-21).

  Results from FactBites:
 
Piers Plowman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (3931 words)
Piers Plowman is considered to be the biggest challenge in Middle English textual criticism, on par with the Greek New Testament.
Since Piers was conflated with the author and dreamer-narrator of the poem at an early date, "Piers Plowman" or a Latin equivalent is often given as the name of the author, which indicates complete unfamiliarity with--or else silent incredulity toward--Crowley's preface.
The Plowman's Tale was printed more and over a longer period of time than Piers Plowman; it was also printed as a Chaucerian text and included in many editions of Chaucer and mentioned as a familiar text in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
Piers Plowman - definition of Piers Plowman in Encyclopedia (171 words)
Piers Plowman (1360 - 1399) is the title of a Middle English allegorical narrative, written in unrhymed alliterative verse, and generally considered the earliest great work of English literature, and the greatest Middle English poem before Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The poem is primarily a vision of the correct Christian life, in terms of the medieval mind.
Piers Plowman Electronic Archive (http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/seenet/piers/) A multi-level, hyper-textually linked electronic archive of the textual tradition of all three versions of the fourteenth-century allegorical dream vision Piers Plowman.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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