Piers Plowman: Early Capitalist Propaganda

William Langland

William Langland

I have had to read a number of painfully horrid books because of academic obligations, but I’ve seldom had to read two back-to-back that were as brutally dull, and inconsistent, and unengaging, and misogynistic as Roman de la Rose and Piers Plowman.  It is William Langland’s Piers Plowman that is perhaps the easier to stomach, just as urine is often easier on the nose than is feces, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable.  The book is essentially a series of morality lectures strewn together through an inconsistent narrative, overt misogyny and frequently hypocritical prescriptions that aim to keep the reader, as Milton might say, “lowly wise”, whilst simultaneously encouraging the poor to wear their poverty like a badge of honour.  It was likely meant for the literate classes when it was written, but if read by the plebs of the day, or even the working class of today, it would read as a piece of capitalist propaganda that aims to keep the poor ignorant and discourage them from challenging the economic structure with the promise of a better world in the afterlife.  Oh, and did I mention how misogynist it is?

 

Another artistic interpretation of William Langland.

Another artistic interpretation of William Langland.

The poem starts out with a narrative about Mademoiselle Meed, ironically called ‘Mademoiselle’ because at the time that word was synonymous with ‘maiden’, and Meed was anything but a maiden.  Meed, which would have been recognized as a synonym for reward at the time, is a prime example of the misogyny present in many medieval texts.  She is presented as the source of many of the world’s ills at the time, which in turn suggests that women are the root of the worlds’ problems.  Paula J. Carlson notes that in Langland’s Piers Plowman, Meed, is read by some critics as “an ambiguous character whose moral nature is neutral” (Carlson, 293), suggesting that she is ethically impartial “because she denies her favors to no one who can pay for them” (295).  This statement, though, articulates Meed’s overt bias: she favours only those who can pay, cutting the poor and destitute.  If that isn’t a bias, I don’t know what it.  Though many medieval texts, like Everyman and Roman de la Rose, try to present wealth, fortune and reward as neutral figures, they usually serve to prove that while fortune may be neutral, it is often used exclusively to facilitate vice rather than virtue, reinforcing maxim that it “is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew, 19:24).  In Meed’s case, such reward corrupts the spiritual, civic and judicial realms.

Langland's work is at times akin to a medieval version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

Langland’s work is at times akin to a medieval version of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Meed subverts the civic and judicial realms in several instances when trying to marry False Fickle-Tongue.  When in need of transportation, Meed and False mount a sheriff and a juror respectively, both procured by Deceit (19), suggesting that the civic and judicial elements of society, in the form of a sheriff and a juror, are easily deceived by reward.  Civic elements are not only deceived, but easily bribed as a mayor accepts cash to protect traders who have made “a fortune in retail trade” by “poison[ing] their customers” (25), thus corrupting the civic body and facilitating practices rooted in avarice.  One might be reminded of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle upon reading this, and recognize that the issues present in medieval literature and still very much present today.  Many businesses in Sinclair’s time, as he documented in The Jungle, were eager to sell products that were literally poisonous, or at the very least inferior to what they advertised, all in the name or profits.  The bribes that went on to allow these criminal activities to continue demonstrates that the kind of corruption Langland speaks to in Piers Plowman, remains present today.  This is a realm in which qualified people fail to secure positions they deserve as Meed states those who she favours will receive positions where more qualified “clerics have finished in second place” (23), suggesting qualifications are secondary to reward, and in turn avarice.

 

Langland is certainly not on a par with Chaucer as a satirist, but he does speak to similar themes at time.

Langland is certainly not on a par with Chaucer as a satirist, but he does speak to similar themes at time.

The spiritual realm, like the civil, is also corrupted by rewards.  Simony, who is a manifestation of “practice of buying and selling ecclesiastical preferment” (OED), and Civil Law support Meed after they are given “cash at hand to pay for [their] saddling”, and agree to “carry away… various misdemeanours—divorce, adultery, and usury under the counter” (20).  This is reminiscent to Chaucer’s critique on the purchasing of indulgences, which he does through the character of the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer, of course, did it much more eloquently and with a much sharper wit that entertained instead of lecturing, but the themes are the same.  Upon receiving bribes, Civil Law and Simony ignore trespasses, be they spiritual, civil, thus allowing Meed to corrupt the church and state while facilitating sin.  Clergy, law-lords and the King’s clerks behave likewise, assuring Meed that she will have their support before the King after “Westminster’s lobbying denizens did her honour”.  Upon receiving their support, Meed rewards them with “gold, silver cups, rings inset with rubies, and a variety of rich gifts” (23).  After seeing such rewards distributed, “churchmen came forward to offer [Meed] their support” and were told they would be made into lords as reward (23), while a friar promises Meed absolution in return for “a substantial sack-load of corn” (24), demonstrating that the men of God he been corrupted by rewards through their avarice.  It is both the civil and spiritual realm corrupted here, again reminiscent of a work by Upton Sinclair, in this instance his film Oil!, which was adapted into the film There Will Be Blood.  In the novel, the protagonist uses bribes to get wheels of production in motion, under the guise that it is beneficial for the community.  This seems to be similar to the argument Meed employs, as she claims that “rather than being a force that pulls society apart, she is instead that which prevents it from disintegrating” (Carlson, 293).  In the end, it is for her own profit.  And just as the bribes handed out corrupt the government officials, the film adaptation demonstrates how it corrupts the spiritual as well.  But Langland’s works ties in, not only with contemporary literature, but other medieval literature as well.  In one scene he writes that “Bishops, instead of buying fancy horses, will spend their cash on housing the homeless beggar” (39), if they are using their wealth the way they should.  This seems to be an echo of Chaucer’s presentation of the Monk, whose hunting and horses takes precedent over the poor, or the Prioress, whose dog is better fed than the serfs of the era.

 

If I had to imagine what Meed looked like, I would guess that she looked something like British glamour model Lucy Collett.

If I had to imagine what Meed looked like, I would guess that she looked something like British glamour model Lucy Collett.

Langland’s personification of Conscience articulates it best, stating that “Meed has married the clergy to greed” (Langland, 28), and that Meed is immune to the law as “Jurymen, summoners… and county sheriffs would be bankrupt without her” (27).  Both the spiritual and the civil realms are corrupted by Meed, and it is stated that morality is not the reason “Meed is… taken in marriage”, but rather it is “because of her property” (17), suggesting that rather than appealing to morality, Meed a appeals to avarice, creating a world that rewards the wealthy and gives “poor people… no way or protesting”.  The personification of theology, creatively named Theology, reinforces this when he states that Civil Law is damned for supporting Meed (18).  Though Meed claims that “rather than being a force that pulls society apart, she is instead that which prevents it from disintegrating” (Carlson, 293), it is clear even if neutral in theory, Meed serves strictly as a force that corrupts the spiritual and civic realms, facilitating all manner of sin by appealing the avarice present in those who support Meed.  As Langland writes: “There are seven sins… But it’s wealth, these fiends have discovered, is the quickest way to lead men to their ruin” (Langland, 160), and it is Meed who represents wealth.

 

Johnny Cash, like William Langland, told the story of a woman who spent to much on a hat, only Johnny Cash didn't end his narrative by beating the woman with a branch.

Johnny Cash, like William Langland, told the story of a woman who spent to much on a hat, only Johnny Cash didn’t end his narrative by beating the woman with a branch.

Though Langland’s arguments about corruption are compelling, it is problem for two reasons.  One, he manifests the source of humanity’s ills in the form of a woman, and two, he goes on to praise the poor, encouraging them to remain in their station of poverty.  The misogyny is rampant throughout.  In one passage Langland writes that there “are three things, according to the Bible, which will force a man to run away from his own house.  One is a monstrous shrew of a wife who proves impossible to control” (208), and he uses scripture to support him, referencing Proverbs 27:15, but being sure to add another level of misogyny to the source text.  the Bible does not use the term ‘shrew’, or mention that a wife should be controlled, at least not in that passage.  And of course there is the age-old cliché of the women wasting money on fashion.  One woman was “wearing a hat worth twenty times [her husband’s] own poor hood.  And he ordered [a man] to cut a couple of branches and give his Betty a sound thrashing if she wouldn’t get down to work” (43).  This sounds like a Johnny Cash song about a woman who spent ten dollars on a ten-cent hat, up until the point where the many starts thrashing his wife with branches.  In the Johnny Cash version they just made up, but hey, Langland obviously thinks domestic abuse serves as an excellent motivator for work.  This, of course, coming from a man who suggests that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (90).

 

 

William Langland seems the type that would give his daughter Barbie dolls instead of Legos.

William Langland seems the type that would give his daughter Barbie dolls instead of Legos.

Then there are the patriarchal prescriptions.  In one instance Langland writes that the church must take care of the mentally deficient, widows, young girls, and orphan children (89).  I realize the intent might have been noble, as windows and young women often times didn’t have the kind of opportunity that modern women have to support themselves, but lumping women in with ‘mentally deficient’ people is not a flattering juxtaposition.  Other prescriptions include when the title characters tells a lady that she “can embroider”, stating that his “advice to [her] is to practise clothe-making, and teach [her] daughters to do so” (64).  This is the medieval equivalent of telling women to give her daughters Barbie dolls instead of Legos!

 

I get the impression the Piers Plowman demanded his wife work, but that his idea of work didn't empower his wife in the fashion the Rosie the Riveter empowered women during WWII.

I get the impression the Piers Plowman demanded his wife work, but that his idea of work didn’t empower his wife in the fashion the Rosie the Riveter empowered women during WWII.

And while we are on the topic or Piers Plowman, let us take a look at the names of his family member.  His wife’s was name was Work-in-time (her parents must have come up with that after watching a video on the Toyota Production System’s ‘Just In Time’ delivery methods), while his daughter’s name was Do-as-you’re-told-or-your-mother-will-scold.  I read recently that couple in Sweden were recently prevented from naming their child Brfxxcxxmnpcccllllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116.  The name, which may have been suggested by their pet cat who walked across their keyboard, was not allowed because authorities were concerned that the child might undergo teasing due to the name.  Apparently Piers’ daughter did have the benefit of authorities with such foresight.  It is doubly troubling that it is the ‘mother’ who is given the job of scolding. But if you thought that name was bad, wait until you hear the name of Piers’ son: Let-your-superiors-have-their-way/Don’t-judge-them-or-you’ll-dearly-pay/It’s-God-who-has-the-final-say.  WOW!!!  Can we just call him Let for short, or an acronym of some sort, like Lysh?  And talk about beating your kids to the ground.  Supplicate! Supplicate! Supplicate! And did this one really need two slashes for alternate names?  Are these middle names?  I realize that this is an allegory, but come on, could Langland be any lazier?  Langland says: “Hmm… I want to come up with a word that mean  ‘Let-your-superiors-have-their-way’, and also ‘Don’t-judge-them-or-you’ll-dearly-pay’, but I don’t want to leave our ‘It’s-God-who-has-the-final-say’.  Nor do I want to think of a word that can encapsulate those sentiments, like ‘Subservient’, or ‘Supplicate’.  What should I do? I got it!  I’ll name the character Let-your-superiors-have-their-way/Don’t-judge-them-or-you’ll-dearly-pay/It’s-God-who-has-the-final-say!”  The poor kid.  Every time Let-your-superiors-have-their-way/Don’t-judge-them-or-you’ll-dearly-pay/It’s-God-who-has-the-final-say hears his name he’s just going to be reminded to be a subservient pleb who works at the whim of the aristocracy.

 

Ayn Rand, capital idealist and Republican hero.  She is like the female version of emperor Palpatine.

Ayn Rand, capital idealist and Republican hero. She is like the female version of emperor Palpatine.

And speaking of reinforcing the notion of supplicating plebs, the rest of the ‘poem’ does that as well, encouraging the impoverished to prize their poverty!  In one passage, Langland writes: “You were born poor; bear your poverty with patience” (74).  This was very forward thinking at the time.  It was as if Langland could see into the future and wanted to write capitalist propaganda for big businesses and band of the 21st century.  If everybody read this in concert with Ayn Rand, Republicans would have a much wider support base.  Langland reinforces this by writing that the “apostles testify that it’s the poor whose inheritance is in Heaven” (106).  Oh, so if I get shit on and exploited in this life, I should just take it because after I die I will enter paradise?  Oh.  Ok.  “[Yes]” writes Langland, because a “man may be your social inferior here on earth, yet in the Kingdom of Heaven he may turn out to deserve a more honourable place and a higher happiness” (65).  Well that is reassuring.  Now I can tolerate my exploitation.  For some reason when I read these words, I hear Mitt Romney’s voice saying them.  Langland also tries to assure the readers that there are four “basic goods… that cannot be sold for money: water, wind, knowledge, and fire” (76).  Apparently his foresight was, in some respects, limited to the medieval period.  Companies are more than happy to charge for water (hydro) wind (wind power) knowledge (you should see what my tuition costs are) and fire (try finding an energy provider who will heat your house for free).  Langland even tries to sell the serfs on poverty by suggesting that poverty is always accompanied by peace.  Apparently Langland never heard of human trafficking or conflict diamonds.  Anachronistic joke of the day: Somebody should have taken Langland on a tour through Detroit!

 

John Milton suggested learning was integral to being a true Christian, but Langland believes ignorance is bliss.

John Milton suggested learning was integral to being a true Christian, but Langland believes ignorance is bliss.

Part of keeping the poor in poverty, is keeping them ignorant, and Langland does much to promote that as well offering brilliant maxims like “no branch of learning is worth a brass farthing”  (141), and “no one has ever possessed so subtle an intellect that he was able to demonstrate Christian truths by argument”  (102).  In place of learning, Langland writes that people should “accept… obedience, for the sake of your spiritual growth” (102), noting that “Christ himself never uttered a word in praise of learning” (109), going onto state that “it has never been intellect or erudition that finally carried the day” (109).  I’m not sure which history books Langland had access to at the time, but it seems like he is unaware of enormous chucks of history where intellect did indeed carry the day.  Just as Langland demonizes the wealthy, so too does he demonize the wise, as he writes that “the wise remain sunk in Hell below!”  (110)  Langland further parallels his treatment of the wealthy and wise by placing the ignorant on the same pedestal that he places the poor, writing that it is “the ignorant… whose unadorned ‘Our Fathers’ have the power to smash through the palace-gates of Heaven” (110).  YES!!!  God only allows the intellectually inferior into his kingdom!  It is the excremental whiteness Milton warns us against that God actually prefers.  There is an irony in all of these.  In one instance the character bemoaning the arrogance of the intellectuals, Scripture (Scripture is the personification of scripture I think) is actually speaking in Latin!  I wonder if Scripture learned to speak Latin at Oxford, or Cambridge?  The personification of the human soul, named Anima (kudos to Langland for not naming this personification Soul), later says that scholars are “Pride’s men-at-arms” and that it was a desire to learn that “that caused Lucifer to fall from Heaven” (167).  Anima is, of course, also speaking Latin, and so she shifts to “plain English, for those who speak nothing else” (168), as not all of us have gone to Oxford or Cambridge like Anima and Scripture have.  Anima actually bemoans  the ignorance of men in the same breath, suggesting that “laymen [should be] familiar with this Latin text”  (177).  Dame Study, one of Langland’s many covert personifications, speaks of those who ask “why, on account of [Adam’s and Eve’s] sins, should all their descendants suffer the same penalty—death?”, and responds that these “are the sorts of problems stirred up by those arrogant intellectuals, who make people lose their faith as a result of brooding over what they say” (98).  Dame Study, of course, has no answer for this reasonable question.

 

Thomas Jefferson and Adolf Hitler.  One of these men was a slave-owning rapist.  The other it Hitler.

Thomas Jefferson and Adolf Hitler. One of these men was a slave-owning rapist. The other is Hitler.

The question of taking on the sins of your father is a pertinent one in the contemporary world, and is one which Langland actually address fairly well, though he does not go into great depth about it.  At one point he writes that the “whole future [Greed] built up for [himself] is founded on a lie, and so, as long as [he] live[s], [he]’ll go on falling still deeper into debt, always unable to pay back a single penny” (52).  Greed is an overt personification for humanity’s own greed, but it is effective here, and America exemplifies this in a modern context.  America is a country build on a lie, or rather, a great many lies.  Be it via slavery, or war, America has exploited any number of people from the peoples of Africa, to the indigenous populations of America, to the Vietnamese.  The American mythos will not recognize the wrongs.  They insist on uplifting the ‘forefathers’, and putting a slave-owning rapist like Thomas Jefferson on their currency as if he were any better than Adolf Hitler (one facilitated the brutal tradition of slavery that meant the servitude and death of millions of African descendants, the other facilitated a very comparable mass genocide).  When we accepts the spoils of a sin, we accept responsibility for that sin.  We profit from the lie, and so long as we live in the profit of that lie, we will, and Langland writes, “fall deeper into debt, always unable to pay back a single penny”.  There is a poem that Langland quotes that is particularly pertinent to this, though the source of the poem is unknown:

“You who sup on the sins of men—

Unless you weep and pray for them,

What now you eat with a glutton’s joy

You’ll vomit up in agony!”  (138)

This seems to be a telling and prophetic piece of poetry.  It is with the glutton’s joy that many of us accept the lands appropriated from the First Nations people of the Americas.  It is with the glutton’s joy that was accept commodities built in conflict zones, of forged in factories where children work more hours than they sleep in conditions that are unsanitary and unsafe, all so we can have the comfort of our iPhones and affordable chocolate bars.  It is the complacent and complicit consumption that Langland speaks to here, and recent history has shown us that there is a price to pay.  That the marginalized groups will respond, as they did on 9/11, and that the longer we deny our own complicity in the culture of oppression, we can continue to expect to deal the agony we will vomit.

 

The bird's nest is an amazing architectural accomplishment, especially considering the beings that build it have no arms.

The bird’s nest is an amazing architectural accomplishment, especially considering the beings that build it have no arms.

Langland also has some interesting passages that fit into an ecocritical reading as well.  Though Langland does discredit scholarly learning, he does seem to have an appreciation for the lessons offered by nature.  He writes that “Reason followed all the animals in the way they ate, drank, and procreated” (122), demonstrating how his personification of Reason looked to nature to find a template for moderation, suggesting that humanity pattern itself off of the animals.  Indeed, the animals are uplifted in the poem as the narrator notes that he “saw birds making nests in bushes, and the smellest one would have defied the wit of man”, admitting that he would “be amazed if any builder knew how to copy its construction” (122).  It is clear that Langland recognizes the inherent value and wisdom present in nature.  As for man’s relation to the earth, there is on passage where Langland writes that salt is “a great preserver”, and then goes onto suggest that we“are the salt of the earth” (181).  In his context, it is not clear that he means that humanity is meant to preserve the earth, but in my reading of that line out of context, it seems that Langland is presenting us with the idea that rather than using the earth to serve our own needs, we are supposed to be preserving it.  The syntax can be read in more than one way, but this is the reading I prefer, even if I am projecting my own biases onto it.

 

After reading Langland's poem, something tells me he would fit right in with the Westboro Baptist Church.

After reading Langland’s poem, something tells me he would fit right in with the Westboro Baptist Church.

As much as this was a sluggish read, there were some parts that were, unintentionally I think, quite funny.  Firstly, there is Langland’s unabashed celebration of God’s sadistic side.  He writes that because of humanity’s sins, God “snuffs out little children” (96)!  This reminds me of the Ricky Gervais version of God who informs somebody that he was present for one event because he was in Africa that day giving AIDS to babies.  Langland goes onto write that God has warned humanity with “by attacks of the plague, poverty, and sickness”, informing the reader that these “are the sharp rods God uses to beat his beloved children” (126).  Beating his beloved children?  Really.  This sounds like the kind of rhetoric coming from the Westboro Baptist Church, and those who suggest that hurricane Katrina was sent to punish the city of New Orleans for its sinful ways.  If Langland God was a parent, I’m sure these beatings would warrant a visit from the Children’s Aid Society and that God’s children would in all likelihood end up in foster care.  But, if you are concerned that God plays favorites depending on who puts more into the donation plate, Langland assures us that God is fair, because an adulterer, whether “Rich or poor… was to be stoned to death” (128).  See?  It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, God will still stone you to death for cheating on your spouse.

 

There are a number of one liners that really caught my attention.  These are some of my favorites:

 

1.       “Do not put your sickle into another man’s corn” (184).  I will NEVER put my ‘sickle’ into another man’s ‘corn’.  EVER!  Wait. Does ‘corn’ mean anus? Or wife?

2.       “And after that, he spoke no more Latin” (135).  Not surprisingly, this character spoke Latin in the following paragraph.

3.       After watching a Pardoner and a prostitute go off together, Langland writes: “I’ve no idea what became of that pair” (63).  I do.  They went off into a narrative that was far more entertaining than was the Piers Plowman narrative.

The Pardoner and the Prostitute, coming to a streaming adult video website near you.

The Pardoner and the Prostitute, coming to a streaming adult video website near you.

4.       “Listen: giving someone a severe telling-off is a far less effective form of discipline than direct humiliation” (125).  I know, right?  Don’t just tell them off.  Humiliate them!  Get a picture of them, post it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and then have all your friends share it and leave nasty comments.  With any luck the person will commit suicide.  William Langland: The Proto-Bully.

5.       “And when you have acquired a wife, take care to have sex only at the proper time” (93).  William Langland does not want you having sex with your wife when she is on her period.  If his wife is in need of some attention, she can go to Louis C. K. and he will be more than happy to take care of that.

Louis CK will be more than happy to F@$% you in the 'period hole'.

Louis CK will be more than happy to F@$% you in the ‘period hole’.

6.       “A Jew wouldn’t allow himself to see a fellow-Jew go about wailing with distress, if he had the means to relieve it—not for all the good upon this earth” (89).  This is one of the most flattering anti-Semitic remarks I’ve ever read.  Very progressive for a man who hates Jews.  This reminds me of the almost politically-correct redneck.

redneck

7.       “But I’ve no real taste for the business of interpreting dreams” (80).  This is what our narrator states 80 pages into the narration of his dream.  He then goes on to write an addition 200 pages about these dreams which he has ‘no taste for’.  I call bullshit on that one.

 

And, finally, there are the medieval directions.  Are you curious as to how you can find somebody in medieval England without a GPS?  All you have to do is ask a person familiar with the area.  The names of the places are as follows:

  •      Never-swear-needlessly-and-never-take-God’s-sacred-name-in-vain
  •      Do-not-desire-men’s-money-or-their-wives-and-do-not-cause-their-servatns-any-mischief
  •      Do-not-steal
  •      Do-not-kill
  •      Do-not-bear-false-witness
  •      Tell-only-truth-and-perform-what-you-say/And-never-do-otherwise-for-threat-of-for-pay
  •      Believe-this-if-your-wish-is-to-be-saved.

 

I looked this place up on Google Maps, apparently it has changed names sine the time Piers Plowman was published.

I looked this place up on Google Maps, apparently it has changed names sine the time Piers Plowman was published.

I have to say, these are the shittiest ‘street’ names I ever heard of.  They are worse than the names Piers gave his kids.  “Yeah, you just want to walk down Never-swear-needlessly-and-never-take-God’s-sacred-name-in-vain Boulevard, and then when you get to Do-not-desire-men’s-money-or-their-wives-and-do-not-cause-their-servatns-any-mischief Lane, you just hand a right until you get to Tell-only-truth-and-perform-what-you-say Street, which they just changed to And-never-do-otherwise-for-threat-of-for-pay Street.  Then just keep going straight until you get to Believe-this-if-your-wish-is-to-be-saved Way and you’ll find what the people you are looking for there.  They live at 776 Believe-this-if-your-wish-is-to-be-saved Way, but the number six lost a nail and is hanging upside down, so it looks like a nine.”  The thing I don’t get is that Langland CLEARLY started naming these things after the Ten Commandments, and then he just cut out half way through.  Did he forget the rest of them or something? I mean, he was lazy enough not come up with a succinct name for them, and then he was too lazy to bother to write out all Ten Commandments?

 

An illustration featured in a manuscript of Langland's Piers Plowman.

An illustration featured in a manuscript of Langland’s Piers Plowman.

So my advice is, avoid this book like the plague.  You know, the plagues that God sent to beat his beloved children?  I admit that the ‘translation’ I read may have diluted the text.  It was originally written in alliterative lines, not unlike Beowulf, but the long rambling lectures are not only boring and high-handed, they are often times wrong, attributing things to scripture that simply are not present in scripture.  And don’t even get me started about how many times the narrator falls asleep. This guy is so tired, and every time he wakes up he is in a different reality.  At once he falls asleep while resting under a tree after walking on a long pilgrimage, then he wakes up in bed yelling at his wife and daughter.  It is bad enough that characters who aren’t even introduced in a scene just jump into a conversation, but Langland even takes the time to state that a given character leaves a scene and in the next paragraph that character, who is no longer there, jumps into the conversation.  And then there are the instances, several of them, where the narrator states that he woke up even though he had already woken up and not gone back to bed.  The narrative is full of holes.  When it comes to instances like this, it is easy to dismiss them as the product of a flawed writer.  Alternately we could view them as being intended to challenge the reader.  For this, I must see some sort of evidence that the person writing has some inkling as to what good writing is.  I do not see that in Langland, but even so, it can still be interesting to pick apart the inconsistencies and explore where they lead.  And if you wanted to do that, you could also treat E.L. James the same way.  But I don’t care to waste my time doing that either.

 

If you would like to read more reviews on medieval literature, check out my review on Guillaume de Lorris’ Roman de la Rose and reviews on Chretien de Troyes’ The Story of the Grail and The Knight of the Cart.  And be sure to follow me on Twitter @LiteraryRambler.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Carlson, Paula J. “Lady Meed and God’s Meed: The Grammar of ‘Piers Plowman’ B 3 and C 4”.  Traditio.  46 (1991): 291-311.  JSTOR.  Web. Feb. 25.  2014.

God. The Holy Bible, King James Version. Ed. The Council of Carthage.  New York: Oxford Edition: 1769; King James Bible Online, 2008. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/.

Langland, William.  Piers Plowman.  Trans. A.V.C. Schmidt.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.  Print.

 “simony, n.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 1 March 2014 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/179934?redirectedFrom=simony>.

 

 

 

 

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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