Authors: William Langland

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works

Poetry:

The Vision of William, Concerning Piers the Plowman, c. 1362 (A Text), c. 1377 (B Text), c. 1393 (C Text)

Richard the Redeless, c. 1395 (attributed).

Biography

Like most medieval authors, the poet who wrote The Vision of William, Concerning Piers the Plowman is almost anonymous. His name is generally thought to have been William Langland. He is thought to have been born at Cleobury, Mortimer, Shropshire, England, about 1332 and to have died in London about 1400, though such claims are in dispute. His biography is mostly hypothetical, being drawn almost entirely from what seem to be autobiographical references in the poem. He was probably educated at a Benedictine monastery in the Malvern hills and became a clerk with minor orders in the Church. He eked out a living in London by singing in churches and by copying legal documents. He wrote the first version of his poem about 1362, revised and greatly expanded it about 1377, and revised it again about 1393.{$I[AN]9810000525}{$I[A]Langland, William}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Langland, William}{$I[tim]1332;Langland, William}

The digressive poem consists of a series of visions concerning human conduct, the Church, and salvation. The verse is alliterative and without rhyme, in the older pre-Norman style. The use of allegory for satiric purposes, however, comes from the French tradition begun by Jean de Meung’s work in The Romance of the Rose in the thirteenth century. The Vision of William, Concerning Piers the Plowman advocates simplicity in religion and social relations and recognizes honest labor as the foundation of a healthy society. The poem was extremely popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and its values inspired the religious reformers of the sixteenth century. The vivid text offers modern readers a look at medieval morality.

BibliographyAlford, John A., ed. A Companion to “Piers Plowman.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. Contains nine essays on such subjects as the historical and theological context of Langland’s Piers Plowman, literary and intellectual influences on the poet, and the text and language of the poem. Also includes an excellent introduction to the poem and its shape. Most essays provide good general overviews of the various scholarly opinions on the subjects covered, and each essay includes abundant bibliographical details.Brewer, Charlotte. Editing “Piers Plowman”: The Evolution of the Text. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. An account of the more than fifty editions of the poem which have appeared since 1550. Brewer examines the lives and motivations of the various editors and the relationships between each successive edition.Hewett-Smith, Kathleen M., ed. William Langland’s “Piers Plowman”: A Book of Essays. New York: Routledge, 2001. A collection of new critical essays examining the relevance of Piers Plowman to contemporary literary theory and to fourteenth century culture and ideology. Includes bibliographical references and index.Krochalis, Jean, and Edward Peters, eds. The World of “Piers Plowman.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975. An interesting examination of the historical, intellectual, and social context in which Langland wrote. The editors provide a multitude of Middle English primary sources, from sermons to statutes to royal proclamations, as illustrations of Langland’s world. Each general section and many of the individual works are prefaced with informative introductory passages. Not all spellings are modernized, and, despite marginal glosses, some texts may be difficult for the beginner. Still, this work offers valuable insight into the currents of thought in Langland’s day.Langland, William. Piers Plowman: An Alliterative Verse Translation. Edited and translated by E. Talbot Donaldson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990. Donaldson’s translation of Piers Plowman into modern English retains the alliterative qualities of Langland’s verse while making it easily accessible to the reader with little or no knowledge of Middle English. Contains helpful margin notes and a useful list of suggestions for further reading.Langland, William. The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Complete Edition of the B-Text. Edited by A. V. C. Schmidt. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1978. Although this is primarily an untranslated edition of one version of Langland’s great work, the concise but thorough and accessible introduction and the excellent, copious commentary make this a valuable tool for the student of Langland. Commentary is divided into two sections: textual/lexical and literary/historical. Marginal notes within the text are generous and will be enormously helpful to the student interested in a close examination of the text.Martin, Priscilla. Piers Plowman: The Field and the Tower. London: Macmillan, 1979. The author focuses on irony and allegory in Piers Plowman and on the difficulties and paradoxes that result for both Langland and the reader as a result of the use of these literary devices. A good examination of Christian allegory is included.
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