Home Page Button Syllabus / Policies Button Composition Button Grammar Button Rhetoric Button Rhetoric Button Literature button poetry button classical button medieval button Renaissance Button Vocabulary Button



Piers Plowman (excerpts from The Norton Anthology):

Vocabulary variant text alliterative revival, alliterative verse, dream vision, seven deadly sins, passus, plowman, harrowing of hell, peasants' revolt, purgatory, personification (Hunger), Lollard

Introduction: What are the so-called A, B, and C texts? How are they different?

How did scholars come up with the name "Langland" for this author/poet?

What does Langland feel is wrong with 14th century society and the 14th century church in particular?

What is "meed"? (Hint: don't confuse with Middle English word meed with mead, the Anglo-Saxon drink of fermented honey.)

What unusual martial or chivalric allegory does Langland use to describe the crucifixion?

How is Piers Plowman connected to Wat Tyler's peasant revolt in 1381?

Lecture: Why is this poem considered part of the alliterative revival? What is the alliterative revival? Why was gluttony considered such a terrible sin in the medieval period?

Identification: Lady Holy Church, Lady Meed, the Field of Folk, the dreamer, Envy, Gluttony, Betty the Brewer, Hope the Trumpeter, Saint Truth, Piers the Plowman, Hunger, the four daughters of God. Dame-Work-When-It's-Time.

Reading Questions:

  • Passus 1 What does the Dreamer clothe himself in? What are two ways of interpreting this?
  • What is the setting in the opening lines of the poem?
  • When the Dreamer falls asleep, he dreams he is in a wilderness. What is the only visible structure? What does he find between this structure and the wilderness?
  • What are some of the responses people have or activities they engage in in the "field of fair folk"?
  • What problem does the Dreamer see in the pilgrims and palmers who go on pilgrimages seeking holiness?
  • What does the pardoner do illegally?
  • What is a sergeant-at-law or law-sergeant? What problem does the Dreamer have with the way these fellows go about their jobs?
  • What problem does the Dreamer have with the ditch-diggers?
  • Passus 5
  • What is Envy's complexion like?
  • What does Envy constantly do with his lips and with his hands?
  • Not only does Envyengage in backbiting, scorn
  • Envy lists a long catalog of people he wishes ill. Why does he "fondle affectionately" the man in the market he most hates?
  • Why does Envy have problems with his digestion--i.e., what causes this problem?
  • When Envy tells Repentance he is sorry, what does it turn out he is sorry about?
  • When Glutton is on his way to church to seek shrift, who interrupts his journey? What does this person offer to Glutton to side-track him?
  • What agreement do Hick, Clement, and Robin come to in the bar?
  • How long does Glutton stay in the bar? (hint: check line 337)
  • How much ale does Glutton drink?
  • How much pee does Glutton urinate afterwards?
  • How long does it take Glutton to urinate?
  • After Glutton takes his roaring spree of drunkenness, what is the first question he has when he wakes up?
  • Why does Glutton want a bowl?
  • Who will give Gluttony leave to eat fish on Fridays? Why does Gluttony find this ironic (i.e., what has his attitude been towards this woman his entire life?)
  • When Hope blows his horn, what does it inspire the thousands of people near him to do? Why can't they achieve this goal (i.e., what knowledge do they lack?)
  • The professional pilgrim has been to the shrine of a hundred saints in diverse lands. What, however, is his response when the fair folk ask him about Saint Truth?
  • Who is the one person in the field of fair folk who claims to personally know Saint Truth?
  • How does Piers Plowman respond when the fair folk offer him money?
  • Piers gives some complicated directions for finding truth. What book or text is the basis of these allegorical landmarks?
  • Who is the gatekeeper to the Castle of Christendom? (Hint: In Piers Plowman, it's not Saint Peter!)
  • What does the ape-trainer proclaim about the Castle of Christendom? How does this connect with Langland's earlier statement about jugglers and minstrels being children of Judas? What does this characterization suggest about Langland's attitude toward entertainment, comedy, and performance?
  • Ironically, why does the Pardoner get excited about the Castle of Christendom?
  • Passus 6
  • What task does Piers ("Perkin") have to do before he is willing to lead the fair folk to Saint Truth?
  • What does Piers advise the veiled woman to do while the men are engaged in their labor?
  • What skill does Piers offer to teach to the knight?
  • What deal does Piers make with the knight for all of his lifetime? How does this match medieval ideas of the three estates?
  • According to Piers, if the knight uses his power to unfairly fine peasants, where will he have to pay them back in the afterlife? (Hint: It's not hell.)
  • How does Piers dress himself to go on his pilgrimage?
  • Piers promises to provide food for everyone except what sort of people?
  • What is the name of Piers' wife?
  • What do all the workers do (or perhaps what do they not do) when prime rolls around at 9:00 a.m. after they have spent a couple hours of hard labor on the farm?
  • How does the Breton named Waster respond to Piers's argument that those who do not work will not eat?
  • When Piers feels threatened, to whom does he first complain?
  • How does Waster react to threats from both Piers and the knight?
  • What personification does Piers "whoop" after for further aid?
  • When this personification comes to help Piers, what part of Waster's body does he attack or strike?
  • What solution does Hunger suggest to those people who have health problems when Piers asks him, "pour charité" to provide a cure for their ailments in lines 253 et passim?
  • What prediction about Hunger does the poem make "before five years are fulfilled?"
  • Passus 18
  • In what time of the year or the liturgical cycle does the dreamer lie down to sleep again?
  • When Christ appears in the dream, he resembles what two people? (Hint: One is a Biblical character, the other is a character from Piers Plowman.) His apparel, however, is even more strange. What sort of person is he dressed like?
  • What does Faith cry out as she sees the rider approaching?
  • Whose armor and coat-of-arms will Christ wear to the joust in Jerusalem?
  • What allegorical enemies is Christ going to joust, according to Faith's discussion? (list one)
  • After being crucified, he faces Longeus (alias Longinus) in the jousting arena. Who or what is Longeus or Longinus? (Hint: Check the Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org to find the entry on Longinus if you are unfamiliar with this legend.)
  • What physical handicap does Longeus suffer?
  • What happens to Longeus when the blood flows down his lance into his eye?
  • Who or what does Faith curse after Christ is pierced? According to the footnotes in the Norton, what "too prevalent" racial attitude in the medieval period is symptomatic of this? Click here for a hint.
  • What is the name of the "wench" that comes out of the west, looking toward hell?
  • Who is Mercy's sister?
  • When Mercy reveals that Mary has come with the Christ child, why does Truth initially argue that her story is nonsense?
  • Out of the north's nip, a third figure joins Mercy and Truth. Who is this figure?
  • Out of these three allegorical figures, which one existed first according to Truth?
  • What allegorical figure from the south is the character Love in love with?
  • What are Peace's clothes made out of?
  • In the squabble over what will happen to humanity, which allegorical figures support salvation for humanity and which allegorical figures argue that humanity should remain in hell?
  • What allegorical character vows himself as a witness to the star of Bethlehem?
  • Langland makes a reference in 18.258 to "Simeon's sons" who are raised from the dead to view Christ's crucifixion. This account does not appear in the canonical gospels. From which apocryphal gospel does Langland garner this idea.
  • In lines 260 onward, Jesus approaches hell. He comes in what size or shape? What does he bring with him?
  • Why is Lucifer sighing about Lazarus?
  • When Lucifer protests that Christ tricked him and stole his rightful prisoners through falsehood, what argument does Langland use as a response?
  • When Christ declares that he will return as a crowned king with angels, what unusual group does he include as his servants who who "stand before [him] / And be at [his] bidding."
  • How does Truth become reconciled with Peace and Mercy?
  • When the Dreamer awakens, who does he call to (what two people)?
  • The Dreamer tells Kit and Calote to crawl on their knees and kiss what object?
  • What power does this object have according to the Dreamer? What may not remain in the shadow of this object?
  • C-Text
  • In the C-Text, what does Reason abrade the Dreamer about? (What is the Dreamer not doing that Reason believes is necessary?)
  • The C-text makes several references to "lollers" (Lollards). What is a Lollard?



To Home Page
Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2017. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated January 11, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.