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Piers Plowman and Social Likeness

Piers Plowman and Social Likeness

How to Know God “Kyndely”

(p.75) Chapter Three Piers Plowman and Social Likeness
Staging Contemplation
Eleanor Johnson
University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes how the rebarbative and difficult poem Piers Plowman stages participatory contemplation through poetic language. Focusing on the poetic forms of likeness that stud the poem—similes, alliterations, and code-switching in particular—the chapter demonstrates that the poem is designed to move readers in and out of experiences of likeness between themselves and the divine. The chapter reimagines how the macaronics or bilingualism of the text work contemplatively—that is, they work aesthetically, sensorily, and feelably. Like Julian's Revelations, Piers Plowman’s contemplative theology centers on Trinitarianism, but it also points away from the relationship between the individual soul and God to suggest how contemplation can—and indeed must—always also be a social act, a political act, and an interpersonal act. For Piers, contemplation is action, and action is contemplation; there is no divide between the soul’s relationship with God and its relationship with its own social context. This turn toward the social as an element of contemplative participation will prove fundamental to the plays studied in the second half of the book. And, indeed, the third chapter suggests a mutually constitutive relationship between Piers and Middle English drama.

Keywords:   Piers Plowman, William Langland, Trinitarianism, simile, likeness, macaronics, vernacularity, alliteration, contemplation and action, social virtue

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