‘Who May Scape þe Sclaundre’: Scandal, Complaint, and Invective in B 3–4


in Conscience and the Composition of Piers Plowman

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199653768
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741678 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

‘Who May Scape þe Sclaundre’: Scandal, Complaint, and Invective in B 3–4

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This chapter examines Conscience's first appearance in the B text of Piers Plowman, his debate with Meed in passus 3. Earlier readers typically interpreted this scene as ‘topical’ satire, in which Langland's personifications represent real historical figures. By contrast, this chapter demonstrates that the first vision of Piers Plowman feels topical not so much because Langland alludes to particular historical events, as because he draws on a series of literary modes—debate, slander and complaint—which are also employed by other authors, including historians such as Thomas Walsingham and the authors of debate poems such as Winner and Waster, in their own analysis of contemporary crises. In a manner typical of debate poetry, Meed is able to exploit the literal level of Conscience's representation, as a failed king's knight and leader of a retinue, in order to call into question his allegorical identity as ‘conscience’.

Keywords: debate; slander; invective; complaint; petition; satire; topical allegory; Good Parliament; Hundred Years' War

Chapter.  11051 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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