Temporal structures in Piers Plowman
Leavitt, Bernice Davis
O'Grady, Gerald L.
Master of Arts
Langland pictured himself as existing both in time, in fourteenth-century England, and out of time, as part of a grand divine scheme. Piers Plowman is fitted into a Biblical and world-historical frame, the pattern of which is the figural interpretation of history. This implies that every occurrence, in all its everyday reality, is simultaneously part of a world-historical context through which it is related to every other occurrence, and thus is to be regarded as being of all times or above all time. The purpose of this thesis will be to further penetrate Piers Plowman in an effort to discern Langland's sense of man's temporality and place, which generates the magnificent view of man—in history—found in the poem. Chapter I treats the lifetime of the fictional pilgrim, Will the dreamer, in his interludes between dreams, attempting to show that the temporal progression reveals a spiritual growth. At the same time, it summarizes the themes of each vision to establish that the content of the visions is directly related to the temporal progression and spiritual growth of the dreamer. Chapter II concentrates on the typological structure of the poem, which might be considered the central contribution of the thesis, by showing how the poem recapitulates the pyramidal pattern of Christian historiography in the story of Piers. Chapter III returns to fourteenth-century English contemporaneity to explain how Langland resolved the apparent paradox of presenting actual events in all their uniqueness while, at the same time, relating them to a highly-structured Biblical world-historical framework.