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William Langland's Poem Piers Plowman

This research examines William Langland's 14th-century extended narrative poem The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman (aka Piers Plowman) as a poetic exercise in social satire. The plan of the research will be to set forth the historical context and literary history surrounding the production of Piers Plowman and then to discuss the pattern of ideas and narrative devices in the text that tend to support the view that it is structured in a way meant to comment on society and the social behavior familiar and important to Langland, namely, a society in which the most important feature of the quality of life was the quality of faith, or the individual's experience of God.

In his anthology of philosophical and theological writings of the 12th to 14th centuries Marenbon says that the study of medieval discourse "calls for the skills of both the historian and the philosopher":

the historian's in order to understand the presuppositions and aims which made the concerns of thinkers in the Middle Ages so different from those of modern philosophy; the philosopher's, because the achievements of medieval thinkers can only be appreciated by the close philosophical analysis of their reasoning.

Marenbon cuts his study of medieval texts off in the middle of the 14th century, just before the period in which Piers Plowman was first composed--1362 according to Skeat and the Attwaters (who follow Skeat), 1370 according to Ryan. But his comments about the medieval mind speak to this research because of their connection to habits of thought that would have been familiar to Langland as author of Piers Plowman and because they help to frame analysis of the text as social satire.

Reasoning, as Marenbon describes it, has to be understood as the cognitive and sociological frame within which specific ideas were developed. Without this defining structure, the student of medieval thought in general and the reader of medieval poetry in parti...

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William Langland's Poem Piers Plowman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:59, June 15, 2019, from