Political forms and institutions in piers plowman

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1 Scopus citations


More than any other poem – indeed, perhaps more than any other work of art from its era – Piers Plowman is suffused with the language and sensibilities of contemporary institutions. This is one of the most challenging aspects of the work for a modern reader. Piers Plowman is not primarily a narrative of characters, nor one driven by plot, nor even a poem of particularly striking visual imagery or technical verbal artistry, although it certainly has moments of all these. Rather it is, as James Simpson has argued, a poem investigating the contours and dynamics of different institutional discourses and forms: the Church and schools; government and law and bureaucracy; local authorities and national politics; marriage, property, and family; and more. Its first and apparently most vigorous audiences were individuals drawn from these same secular and ecclesial institutions, “public men” and “professional readers” (see Chapter 10) who found in Piers Plowman not just a reflection of the institutional conditions of their lives, but a vibrant expression of the urgent questions and crises attending them. As we travel with the dreamer through the allegorical landscape we find it populated by recognizable institutional landmarks and settings, scenarios evoking a familiar experience with the social structures of law, right, and public power – all of which demand an ethically and critically inflected understanding of authority, fidelity, legality, and truthfulness.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to
Subtitle of host publicationPiers Plowman
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780511920691
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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