A Festschrift in Honour of A.V.C. Schmidt
Edited By Nicolas Jacobs and Gerald Morgan
Romance Patterns of Naming in Piers Plowman
← 36 | 37 → HELEN COOPER
A muche man, as me thouȝte, lik to myselue,
Cam and called me by my kynde name.
—LANGLAND, Piers Plowman, B VIII.70–11
With the major exception of Will, the act of naming has not been thought of as particularly significant in Piers Plowman. Most names are just what they say they are. They may be the names of personifications, such as Wit or Fortune; of historical or biblical characters, such as Trajan or Isaiah; type names, such as Glutton; or fictional or generic names such as those of Glutton’s fellow-drinkers in the pub, ‘Hikke þe Hakeneyman and Hugh þe Nedlere’ (V.311). The places where Langland pauses to discuss the implications of the same person having more than one name, as he does when he has his dreamer ask Conscience why Jesus should sometimes be called Christ (XIX.15–61), are clearly flagged in ways that make their significance explicit. Yet what we know about both the social and literary practices in the later Middle Ages should make us suspicious of such apparent simplicity, and especially in an author who is never as simple as he looks. One element of his complexity, immediately apparent to any reader and with a long history of critical discussion since Morton Bloomfield first set out to offer his own answer, is his mixture of genres.2 Essentially a dream vision that operates by means of debate, Piers Plowman also aligns itself with satire...
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