Piers Plowman B in its contemplative context
This dissertation places Piers Plowman B in the context of a group of late medieval works which describe the psychology of and methods for practicing contemplation. These works include St. Bernard's sermons on contemplation, Bonaventure's Mind's Road to God, Richard of St. Victor's Benjamin Minor and Benjamin Major, Deonise Hid Diuinite, several works by the author of The Cloud of Unknowing and, especially, a group of works on contemplation found in the Vernon manuscript with an A-text of Piers Plowman.The dissertation summarizes the commonalities underlying these various views of contemplation and then demonstrates how knowledge of such commonalities affects a reading of Piers Plowman B. In other words, how might a reader familiar with the Ego dormio tradition, which employs the image of sleep as a metaphor for the contemplative process, and familiar with descriptions and arguments found in contemplative literature read Piers Plowman B?In answering this question, the dissertation clarifies how Piers Plowman B is indeed concerned with mysticism though it does not demonstrate the achievement of the Dreamer's union with the "hid divinity." It argues that the Dreamer's sleep may be read as a series of attempts to practice contemplation, that the Dreamer struggles, with increasing success, to focus his will upon patient attention to the instructions his dreams bring and to quell his tendencies to "jangle" (that is, to employ argumentation) as he strives for "kynde knowynge." Will's swoon at the beginning of Passus XVI marks the moment of the Dreamer's inner conversion, revealing that the Dreamer is depicted as achieving, through grace, the first two stages of the contemplative process--purgation and illumination--though never the third--union. He does, however, achieve an illuminative vision of Christ and the reconciliation of the Four Daughters of God.
- English