William Langland, Piers Plowman

1367 - 1386

Langland, Piers Plowman


  • Intro

    There are several manuscript versions of The Vision of Piers Plowman, giving three recognised texts dating from 1367 to 1386, varying enormously in length.


    The poem concerns a quest for truth through faith, featuring personifications of Conscience, Reward, Thought, Wit, Study, and Imagination. The text contains passages showing the state of English society in the period following the Black Death, and the transition from decaying feudalism towards a labour economy, with discussion of the rights and duties of labourers. The poem’s relevance in its own time is seen in its discussion of the condemnation of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, its attack on Church corruption, and in the fact that Piers Plowman was cited by John Ball during the Peasants’ Revolt (1381).


    Langland’s response to the upheavals of society is that of a medieval Christian, seeing all change as decay and leading towards apocalypse; but as a visionary poet he interprets this in terms of a call to transform society to function on a fairer basis. While accepting the new urban society as a reality, with victims oppressed by poverty, and calling on the monarch to rule by Conscience and Reason, rather than corruptly, the poem can only offer a vision of active compassion and rewards after death.


    Shelfmark: Cotton Vespasian B. XVI, ff.8v-9.

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