Piers’s Good Will: Langland’s Politics of Reform and Inheritance in the C-Text
Drout, Michael D. C.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 13 (1996)
In Passus VIII of Piers Plowman, just before the famous plowing of the half-acre, William Langland has Piers prepare a will in the manner of a man going on a literal journey: “Forthy y wol ar y wende do wryte my biqueste. In dei nomine amen: y make hit mysulue” (VIII.94). This line and the subsequent will are present in all three texts of the poem, but in the C-text Langland inserts an additional passage just before Piers announces his intention to have a will made:
Counsayle nat so þe comune þe kyng to desplese,
Ne hem þat han lawes to loke lacke hem nat, y hote þe.
Lat god yworhte with al, as holy wryt techeth:
Super cathedram Moysi sedent.
Maystres, as þe mayres ben, and grete mene, senatours,
What þei comaunde as by þe kyng countreplede it neuere;
Al þat they hoten, y hote, heiliche thow soffre hem
And aftur here warnynge and wordynge worche þou þeraftur.
Omnia que dicunt facite et seruate (VIII, 84-90).
This passage’s appearance in the C-text is significant not only because it may represent a reaction by Langland to the use of his work by the rebels of 1381, but because the social wisdom encoded in the passage becomes a significant part of Piers’s bequest. Along with this wisdom, Piers metes out his possessions: his soul to God (96), his body and bones to the church (100), and to his wife, Dame Worch-when-tyme-is, his rightfully earned goods, which she is to divide among his “dohteres and my dere childres” (105-6). Having arranged his bequests, Piers is free to set out on pilgrimage “at þe plough for profit to pore and ryche”.