Dowel, the Proverbial, and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia

Anne Middleton

in Medieval Poetics and Social Practice

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823243242
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780823243280 | DOI:

Series: Fordham Series in Medieval Studies (FUP)

Dowel, the Proverbial, and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia

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This essay begins with Piers Plowman's use of the adage “Do well and have well,” a phrase that elegantly interweaves poetics and social practice. It prescribes practice within a form that reveals the relationship of Langland's poetics to other figural and didactic realms. In “Dowel, the Proverbial and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia,” Anne Middleton argues that by looking at other occurrences of the phrase “do well and have well,” we discern how the register of the proverbial and popular provides Langland with a way to think about pastoral didacticism in relation to his own work. Middleton surveys different occurrences of this phrase, focusing, for instance, on its appearance in the Similitudinarium of William de Montibus (d. 1213). This work provided an important source for the summae confessorum that influenced Piers Plowman. Rather than simply pinpointing in William's text another possible origin for a Langlandian formulation, however, Middleton suggests instead that we read such texts as “illuminating commentary avant la lettre on the poet's pivotal deployment” of the “Dowel” dictum. Investigating the implications of the proverbial, Middleton shows how “ordinary and extraordinary language declare their interdependence in the ‘arts’ of both pastors and poets.”

Keywords: William Langland; Piers Plowman; Proverb; Poetics; Pastoral; Dowel; medieval

Chapter.  11618 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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