Last Updated September 5, 2023.
"Piers Plowman," which is also sometimes titled as "William's Vision of Piers Plowman," is a poem by English writer William Langland. The poem was written during the 1300s in Middle English, which was the form of English spoken in Great Britain after the Norman conquest of the British Isles. The poem centers on the narrator, Will, and his desire to live a pure Christian life. The narrative of the piece, like most epic poems, deals with a journey within the narrator's dream. Each adventure is a part of a long dream sequence. The narrator, or dreamer, is trying to find mythical characters named Dowell, Dobet, and Dobest (which, respectively mean "Do well," "Do better," and "Do best"). Essentially, the narrator is trying to find higher forms of himself within his dream world. By creating these characters, the dreamer can literally interact with his aspirations on becoming a better person.
Langland begins the psychological and religious motifs by using the character of Will—which alludes to one's will as much as it is the poet's actual name—as his proxy. Will, the narrator, had fallen asleep on a tower and dreams of heaven and hell. He also dreams of a parallel universe mirroring reality, which represents mankind. In that version of human civilization, there is a kingdom just like the one in England, but in the context of Will's vision of the higher cosmic world, the social structures appear to be synthetic compared to the heavenly order of God.
This part of the poem satirizes the concept of monarchy and the absurdity of serfdom's hierarchical structure by portraying a king as a cat and his subject as mice. The king in his dream world is predatory and arrogant, knowing hd has the power to consume his subjects, whilst the subjects are rodents trying to survive in miserable conditions.
Other parts of the poem examine the philosophical concepts of truth and reason, specifically from a medieval Catholic context. In essence, the poem is meditation on theology in the form of a fantastical tale. The different worlds and characters that Will come across are different elements of his own consciousness as he tries to seek the divine.