261. Piers Plowman by William Langland (c.1370-1390)

More dream visions. More Christian allegory.

Will frequently dreams, seeking the way to God (Truth). The titular character Piers is at first a good and honest labourer who is free of greed and can lead penitent souls to Truth, but reoccurs in a later dream as a version of Christ himself.

Source :  Piers Plowman by William Langland translated by Terence Tiller, Everyman’s Library, published 1981.

Thoughts : Another personal fail as I played my 100 page rule card (if I have no interest in what is happening or being written after 100 pages, I cut and run) In this case, although parts of the story were very well written, the bulk was just too preachy, difficult to follow, meandering and yet repetitious for me to stick with.

On top of the allegorical presentation of vices and virtues, there is also repeated attacks on corruption in the Church including the four orders of friars, and the greed of lawyers, bringing a level of social commentary into this extended sermon.

Again, reading earlier works helped with Piers Plowman. There are so many quotes directly from the Bible, but also mention of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and the plight of wise and good people who lived and died before Christ’s time on Earth, consigned to Hell or Purgatory, as described in Dante’s Divine Comedy. There are also references to the plague which Langland blames in part on the excessive pride of Church officials.

My apologies that this was not a very elucidating blog for readers. If any of you have read and enjoyed Piers more than I did, please comment below. 🙂

Favourite quotes/scenes:

Amongst the sermons I found this little gem which spoke to me, Note the alliteration.

“As you seem in men’s sight, so be in yourself

Let nobody be beguiled by your outward bearing

But be in your soul the same as you show yourself”      Passus 10, lines 254-256

Personal rating:  3/10

In the 1370s:

  • Revolts in France force The Black Prince back to England (1371), and the French fleet defeats the English off La Rochelle (1372).  John of Gaunt leads a cavalry raid through France from Calais to Bordeaux (1373) before taking effective power in England (1374), but loses French lands and agrees to a truce (1375)
  • King Edward III of England dies (1377) leaving grandson Richard II to be guided by a council headed by John of Gaunt.
  • Pope Urban VI moves papacy back to Rome from Avignon, but a rival antipope Clement VII is elected by 13 disgruntled cardinals to continue to sit in Avignon, causing the Great Schism.
  • Dutch develop canal locks by 1373.

from the Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978



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