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).
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.
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.