Piers Plowman and the Reinvention of Church Law in the Late Middle Ages
It is a medieval truism that the poet meddles with words, the lawyer with the world. But are the poet’s words and the lawyer’s world really so far apart? To what extent does the art of making poems share in the craft of making laws, and vice versa? Framed by such questions, Piers Plowman and the Reinvention of Church Law in the Late Middle Ages examines the mutually productive interaction between literary and legal "makyngs" in England’s great Middle English poem by William Langland.
Focusing on Piers Plowman’s preoccupation with wrongdoing in the B and C versions, Arvind Thomas examines the versions’ representations of trials, confessions, restitutions, penalties, and pardons. Thomas explores how the "literary" informs and transforms the "legal" until they finally cannot be separated. Thomas shows how the poem’s narrative voice, metaphor, syntax and style not only reflect but also act upon properties of canon law, such as penitential procedures and authoritative maxims. Langland’s mobilization of juridical concepts, Thomas insists, not only engenders a poetics informed by canonist thought but also expresses an alternative vision of canon law from that proposed by medieval jurists and today’s medievalists.
- World Rights
- Page Count: 288 pages
- Dimensions: 6.0in x 1.1in x 9.1in
Reviews"The book not only offers an insightful reframing of Langland’s interest in the law and penitence, but also makes an original and persuasive contribution to scholarship on the text in general. What helps considerably here is Thomas’ careful negotiation of the link between literariness and legality. Rather than simply taking their kinship as read, his study takes the time to think through the specific points of connection between the law and Langland’s poetics."
Review of English Studies
"This book offers a rich and provocative account of the way an allegorical poem might participate in the discourse of canon law and make its own, distinctive contributions to canonist thought."
Alastair Bennett, Royal Holloway, University of London
Journal of British Studies
"Thomas reminds us of the complexity of the poem, the way its call for radical reform and its desire for restoration can co-exist in ways that produce sudden shifts and unexpected results. Indeed, this is an ambitious and rewarding book that reveals Langland’s sustained and profound commitment to reinventing canonist thought."
Conrad van Dijk
Studies in the Age of Chaucer
"Elegantly written and persuasively argued, this book merits persistent return for its suggestive insights and careful attention to Langland’s intricate poetic experiments."
Jamie K. Taylor, Bryn Mawr College
Yearbook of Langland Studies
"This book offers an important excavation of how much canon law is part of the ‘dialogic’ range of discourse in and around Piers Plowman, both showing how the poem’s originality extends to how it refashions canon law and following implications that might have been treated by a prosaic canonist but that, fortunately, were instead unfolded by a brilliant poet. Arvind Thomas’ study thus also offers a new way to appreciate some of the range and depth of canon law itself."
Andrew Galloway, Department of English, Cornell University
"In this excellently argued study, Thomas builds on the work of scholars like Andrew Galloway, John Alford, Anne Middleton and Emily Steiner to apply sensitive readings of penitential discourse, canonist treatises, and legal documents to show that canon law does not merely provide Piers Plowman with a genre of intertext, but informs its methods for interrogating the world that it describes."
Stephen Yeager, Department of English, Concordia University
Author InformationArvind Thomas is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Table of contentsCONTRITIO CORDIS: THE LAUGHTER OF MEDE AND TEARLESSNESS OF CONTRICION
DREAMS OF AVARICE: THE ABSENT PRESENCE OF THE USURY PROHIBITION
RESTITUTIO: FROM RULE TO LAW TO JUSTICE IN COVETISE’S CONFESSION
SATISFACTIO OPERIS: MAXIM AND METAPHOR IN WRONG’S TRIAL
CONTRITIO CORDIS, CONFESSIO ORIS, ET SATISFACTIO OPERIS: FROM SYMBOL TO SIGN IN PATIENCE’S SERMON
Subjects and Courses