Piers Plowman "As Dead As A Door Nail"
by William Langland

Start Your Free Trial

"As Dead As A Door Nail"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Download Piers Plowman Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Context: The poet "slumbered and slept" "in a summer season when the sun was softest" "on a May morning on a Malvern hillside," and saw visions of a high tower (Truth), of a deep dungeon (Wrong), and between them "a fair field full of folk" (Earth). While there he is approached by "a lovely lady in linen garments," but he is "afraid of her face, for all her beauty." This lady tells him that she is "Holy Church." She then tells him, "when all treasures are tried . . . Truth is the fairest." She further teaches, "Love is the treacle of heaven,/ No sin may be seen where that spice is." She warns the rich that they must have compassion for the poor; otherwise they are lost. The door nail reference was used by Shakespeare (King Henry IV, Part II, Act. V, sc iii, l. 123), where the king is pronounced as dead "as nail in door." In Piers Plowman, the context is thus. "Holy Church" is speaking to the poet:

James the gentle has judged in his lettersThat faith without works is vain and idle,And as dead as a door-sill unless deeds follow.