William Langland ‘The Visions of Piers Plowman – Passus 6’

In this passage Langland gives us his theory of proper social organization. Piers offers to guide the pilgrims to Truth, but first he first has to plow and sow his half-acre. So if they help him, he will help them. What shall the women do? They should sow bags for wheat, or if they are fine ladies, church vestments and do other stereotypically female jobs. The knight then says that he is not trained to plow, but he will be happy to learn. Piers tells him that there’s no need for that, because he should do his job, that is defending him (meaning all his countrymen) and the Church and hunt wild beasts which ruin his field (Yeah, right, because protecting peasants from pests was surely the foremost thought in the mind of medieval aristos who went a-hunting.) And he should be also kind and just to his peasants, because he will be held accountable for that after death, and not to listen to any story-tellers who entertain people during feasts, because they are liars. Piers gets ready for work and says that he will be happy to share the fruit of his labour with everybody except for nasty people like criminals, prostitutes etc. We also learn that he has a wife and two children with long and very allegorical names, whose point boils down to “do as you’re told, work hard, don’t dare to complain about your superiors, but leave their punishment to God.” So Langland’s viewpoint is actually quite conservative: everyone should be happy in the estate he or she is born to, and not to aspire any higher or grumble.

Piers says that before his journey he is going to write his will: he leaves his soul to God, his body to the Holy Church, because he paid regularly his tithes and he hopes that the Church will take care of him after death with prayers for the dead. He also leaves to the Church “the residue and remnant”, that is one-third of his estate – the maximum amount a medieval testator had at his or her disposal. The rest had to go to the family, in this case Piers’s wife, who is going to decide about how to divide it among their children.Wi

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