Penitential Texts and Vernacular Conscience in B 13–14


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

Penitential Texts and Vernacular Conscience in B 13–14

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This chapter illustrates how Conscience is transformed from the self-righteous accuser of Meed in the first vision to a humble penitent and pilgrim in B 13–14 as Langland takes up a new penitential mode. Langland here draws on a newly ‘vernacularised’ form of penitential discourse that resembles texts such The Cleansing of Man's Soul and Memoriale Credentium. This discourse re-presents pastoral materials, originally designed for clerical use, for direct use by professional religious and ultimately lay people. It emphasises the individual conscience over institutional forms of knowledge. Within this new mode, Conscience is transformed into an example of the virtuous layman who provides penitential counsel to his fellow Christian. The retinue politics of the first vision are now transformed, too, into new spiritualised forms, in which ‘God's minstrels’ provide edifying ‘entertainments’ that earn their lords a reward from God.

Keywords: vernacular texts; pastoralia; lay readers; modes of knowledge; counsel; penance; confession

Chapter.  11017 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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