The Dream Vision & Exploring Corruption in the Church

I understand that Piers Plowman┬áis a complex, multifaceted work and so I do not want this blog post to come off as a sweeping general assumption about the author’s purpose in creating the work; rather, I want this to serve as a potential modern interpretation based on subtle moments I noticed that feed into some themes I have noticed in our historical/contextual readings. My interpretation is likely informed, too, by my own personal experiences with newer texts and movements. With that being said, Passus 5 seemed to be an extended personification of some of the Seven Deadly Sins. More abstract ideas like Reason and Repentance are endowed with human-like traits, too, and are combatant toward the monstrous, unappealing entities of sin. I thought it was telling, first of all, that the Dream Vision genre was used here to visualize abstract ideas that would have been – I’m guessing – unacceptable or awkward to explore without the permissive genre that allows for just about anything. Though Dream Visions like most literary forms have a rough sort of formula they follow, this particular genre allows for endless possibilities. Dreams can be crazy and nonsensical on the surface, but sometimes they reveal to us some of the most important life truths (or, in this case, Truths). I argue, then, that the Langland poet chose the Dream Vision so that he could subtly hint at the Church’s fallibility when it comes to corruption and sin.

At the very opening of the poem, readers are given something resembling an introduction to the scene. We are told that “Reason preaches a sermon to the king and all the realm, urging the whole community to reform” (1). This indicates that human reason is the one directing this entire production and that everyone involved needs some degree of reform, Reform, of course, is a buzzword pertaining to the Church; especially in these times, it was the subject of several accusations and acts of reform. Repentance, one of the true solutions in the reform, “[makes] Will weep water with his eyes” (l. 60). If Will, the narrator, is also our author, this would indicate a direct involvement with the Dream Vision and its purpose. The narrator also refers to the Priests finding out about the corruption of the Friars (figures often viewed with disdain in medieval works – at least in the case of Chaucer). The whole situation just seems to open up the possibility of softly urging the Church to reform – or at least listen to those who want change.

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