Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Piers Plowman Characters

Will

Will is the poem’s protagonist, narrator, and dreamer. During his waking life, Will wanders the world like a hermit. During his dreaming life, Will learns from a series of allegorical teachers, such as Conscienceread analysis of Will

Piers Plowman

Piers Plowman is a humble peasant who is a follower of Truth, a husband to Dame-Work-When-It’s-Time-To, and a father to Do-Just-So-Or-Your-Dame-Will-Beat-You and Suffer-Your-Sovereigns-To-Have-Their-Will-Condemn-Them-Not-For-If-You-Do-You’ll-Pay-A-Dear-Price-Let-God-Have-His-Way-With-All-Things-For-So-His-Word-Teaches. Piers tries to show society how to follow Truth… read analysis of Piers Plowman

Conscience

Conscience is first introduced as the knight whom the King wants Meed to marry. Later, Conscience becomes one of Will’s most important and most enduring teachers, appearing in the majority of Will’s dreams. Conscience… read analysis of Conscience

Christ / Jesus

Christ is the Son of God, and one part of the Trinity (alongside God the Father and Holy Ghost). Christ is the subject, directly or indirectly, of all of Will’s dreams, as well… read analysis of Christ / Jesus

Friar Flatterer

Friar Flatterer is the friar who is called into Unity to heal those whom Hypocrisy and other evil forces wounded. Although Peace and Conscience are wary of him, Courteous Speech welcomes him warmly. Friar Flatterer… read analysis of Friar Flatterer
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Truth

Truth is one of the two representations of God (the other being Kind). Truth is first introduced by Holy Church and is portrayed as a Creator God who lives in the castle on theread analysis of Truth

Samaritan

The Samaritan is one of the biblical characters that Will meets on the road to Jerusalem. The Samaritan immediately establishes himself as being empathetic. When Will and his new acquaintances, Faith and Hope, see… read analysis of Samaritan

King

The King oversees the court case of Peace vs. Wrong and also deals with Lady Meed’s misbehavior. The King doesn’t abuse his power—he trusts Conscience and Reason’s input and is committed to keeping them as… read analysis of King

Meed

Meed is False’s fiancée and Holy Church’s enemy. Although she has been instructed by God to marry Truth (due to the fact that her mother, Amends, is a righteous woman), she disobeys. The… read analysis of Meed

Simony

Simony is a shady character who conducts False and Meed’s wedding ceremony with help from Civil. Later, the extent of his evil is realized when he attacks Unity with Fortune, Lechery, and… read analysis of Simony

Wrong

Wrong is introduced by Holy Church as being the leader and founder of the dungeon in the valley, Hell, which thus conflates him with Lucifer. Later, Wrong is the criminal in the legal… read analysis of Wrong

Lecher

Lecher is one of the Seven Deadly Sins who confesses to Repentance. His confession is the shortest of the seven, comprised of four lines. Even though lechery means lust, Lecher asks for mercy and… read analysis of Lecher

Covetousness

Covetousness, also called Sir Harvey, is a naïve man who knows so little about Christianity, he doesn’t even know what restitution means—even though his title (Sir) denotes status, either in the clergy or the nobility… read analysis of Covetousness

Grace

Grace is God’s messenger, as well as the gatekeeper at Truth’s palace. Grace reveals himself to be extremely generous, as he distributes the gifts and talents to the common people to prepare them… read analysis of Grace

Hunger

Hunger is a threatening (albeit, not evil) man who Piers Plowman calls upon to make those who are faking injury to start working again. Hunger is a natural consequence that comes about because of the… read analysis of Hunger

Anima

Anima, who represents the soul, initially is a beautiful woman who resides in a castle made of the four elements, which represents the human body. She lives with a duke named Do-Well, his daughter… read analysis of Anima

Knight

The knight signifies the nobility in Piers Plowman’s ideal (but short-lived) feudal society. Although he is supposed to keep order and protect the people, he is too meek to do so, underscoring the way… read analysis of Knight

Parnel Proud-Heart

Parnel Proud-Heart is the woman who represents pride at the confession of the Seven Deadly Sins. Her brief but emotional confession is the first of the seven confessions. Although Parnel’s sin is pride, she remains… read analysis of Parnel Proud-Heart

Trajan

Trajan is the ex-Roman Emperor who lived his life as a non-Christian but was saved from Hell by Saint Gregory the Great. Trajan was ultimately allowed to reside in the lowest part of Heaven—an event… read analysis of Trajan

Master of Divinity

The Master of Divinity is one of the guests at Patience’s feast, along with Clergy, Scripture, Conscience, and Will. The Master is unabashedly gluttonous, as he stuffs himself with rich… read analysis of Master of Divinity

Hawkin

Hawkin, also called Activa Vita (Active Life), is one of the characters that Will meets while traveling as a pilgrim with Patience and Conscience. Hawkin’s coat is badly stained, and he complains to his… read analysis of Hawkin

Faith

Faith is the biblical figure Abraham, whom Will meets while on the road to Jerusalem. He explains to Will that he is seeking Jesus, who can help the multitude of souls that he carries… read analysis of Faith

Hope

Hope is Moses, the biblical figure who received the ten commandments from God on Mount Sinai. He explains to Will that he is traveling to Jerusalem to find a knight named Jesus who can seal… read analysis of Hope

Peace

Peace is one of the four daughters of God, alongside her sisters, Mercy, Righteousness, and Truth. Peace is hopeful for the fate of mankind, echoing her sister Mercy’s belief that Christread analysis of Peace

Lucifer

Lucifer is one of the main devils in Hell, as he was the heavenly being who pridefully refused to obey God and manipulated other heavenly beings into following him rather than Christ. For his… read analysis of Lucifer

Satan

Satan is one of the devils in Hell who was cast out of Heaven alongside Lucifer, the Fiend, Goblin, and thousands of other heavenly beings who became devils. Throughout the course of… read analysis of Satan

Devil

The Devil is one of the devils in Hell, thrown out of Heaven for following the prideful Lucifer who refused to obey God. The Devil’s name is often used interchangeably with the Fiend and… read analysis of Devil

Patience

One of the seven sisters guarding the gates of the castle on the hill in the field of folk, an allegorical figure representing one of the attributes that a Christian should cultivate. Patience attends… read analysis of Patience
Minor Characters
Kind
Kind is one of the two main representations of God, along with Truth. He is the representation of God that the Christian community calls out to when Unity is under attack, leading Kind to send down Death and Old Age.
God
Although God never actually appears in the poem, he is referred to often. He is represented by two characters, Kind and Truth. He is both one part and all three parts of the Trinity (God the Father, Jesus, and Holy Ghost).
Do-Well
Do-Well is both a person and a value that Christians should try to cultivate. Do-Well is described in various ways by Will’s many teachers. However, the common thread is that Do-Well lives an active life and is committed to hard, honest labor.
Do-Best
Like Do-Well, Do-Best takes on several definitions. However, Do-Best tends to be a person (and a value) who leads a morally upright existence and is committed to helping other people.
Do-Better
Similar to Do-Well and Do-Best, Do-Better is both a person and a value and is described in many different ways by Will’s teachers. Do-Better tends to be a high-up Church official—perhaps a pope—who reprimands sinners.
Holy Church
Holy Church is the beautiful, gentle woman who descends from the castle on the hill to teach Will about Truth, one of the representations of God. Holy Church represents the Church in its purest form, unstained by human corruption.
False
False is Meed’s fiancé and is close companions with Favel, Dread, Guile, and Liar. He is open about wanting to marry Meed only for her money.
Favel
Favel is a close friend of False, Liar, Dread, and Guile. Representing greed, Favel is quick to use bribery to get what he wants (in this case, bringing to completing the marriage of Meed and False).
Guile
Guile is companions with False, Favel, Dread, and Liar. Like Favel, Guile often resorts to bribery. He later reveals himself to be a follower of Antichrist.
Dread
Dread is a friend of False, Favel, Liar, and Guile who overhears King proclaiming to punish False and his followers, and consequently warns the evil group.
Liar
Liar is a friend of False, Favel, Dread, and Guile. He is quick, sneaky, and evades punishment.
Clergy
Clergy is Scripture’s wife, Dame Study’s cousin, and one of Will’s many teachers. Clergy is also one of the dinner guests at Patience’s feast, along with Conscience and a Master of Divinity. Clergy is arrogant, claiming to know more than Patience possibly can.
Civil
Civil and his companion, Simony, are the two underhanded men who conduct Meed’s wedding ceremony.
Wisdom
Wisdom serves as Wrong’s lawyer (along with Wit) in the case of Peace vs. Wrong.
Wit
Initially, Wit acts as one of Wrong’s lawyers (along with Wisdom) in the case of Peace vs. Wrong. Conscience and the King are suspicious of Wit, as he is known for being close with covetousness. Later, however, Wit is one of Will’s teachers, along with his wife, Dame Study.
Lewte
Lewte is one of Will’s teachers and is a close companion of Holy Church. Lewte’s teachings are brief, mainly centering on the value of exposing corruption in the Church.
Repentance
Repentance builds on Reason’s sermon by overseeing the confessions of the Seven Deadly Sins and helping them repent.
Envy
Envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, gives a lengthy confession to Repentance, who teaches him about contrition—genuine guilt for sin. Envy is so overridden by jealousy that his face is sallow and his lips bleed from biting them in anger.
Wrath
Wrath is a friar with nasty gossiping tendencies, which he relates almost gleefully to Repentance. Although Repentance commands Wrath to repent, Wrath never voices guilt for his sins, nor does he vow to change his ways.
Glutton
Glutton is one of the Seven Deadly Sins who confesses to Repentance. Glutton’s primary problem is overindulgence in alcohol—something he even puts before going to Mass. He vows to change his gluttonous ways by fasting until his aunt, Abstinence, lets him eat and drink again.
Sloth
One of the Seven Deadly Sins, Sloth is a man of status who has been reduced to a beggar because of his idleness and lethargy. During his confession to Repentance, Sloth vows to attend Mass every day for the next seven years.
Priest
The Priest asks Piers Plowman to read aloud the pardon from Truth. Upon seeing the pardon’s brevity (it’s only two lines long), the Priest pompously declares that it’s not a real pardon. His words anger Piers Plowman so much that Piers rips the pardon in two.
Thought
One of Will’s many allegorical teachers, Thought is a large man who teaches Will about Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best. He later travels with Will for a short while and acts as a mediator between Will and Wit.
Dame Study
Dame Study is Wit’s wife, Scripture and Clergy’s cousin, and one of Will’s teachers. Dame Study is a no-nonsense woman, but her explanation of Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best is so complex and confusing, that it even leaves her own husband speechless.
Imaginative
Imaginative is one of Will’s many teachers. His discussion with Will focuses on whether or not non-Christians can achieve salvation—a lesson that references one of Will’s other teachers, Roman Emperor Trajan.
Scripture
Scripture is Clergy’s wife, Dame Study’s cousin, and one of Will’s many teachers. Her complicated teachings primarily rest on the dangers of amassing riches.
Reason
Reason is a trusted companion of Conscience and later an advisor of the King.
Sir Inwit
Sir Inwit is the knight who protects Anima with help from his five sons. His sons, who align with each of the five senses, are See-Well, Say-Well, Hear-Well, Work-Well-With-Your-Hands, and Go-Well.
Fortune
Fortune is an evil woman who, along with her maids, Concupiscentia-Carnis and Covetousness-of-Eyes, tempts Will into pursuing fleshly pleasures for several years. She proves herself to be flighty and untrustworthy, abandoning Will when he needs her the most.
Concupiscentia-Carnis
Concupiscentia-Carnis, or Lust of the Flesh, is one of Fortune’s maids. She helps Fortune lead Will astray by tempting him with fleshly pleasures.
Covetousness-of-Eyes
Covetousness-of-Eyes is one of Fortune’s maids. She tempts Will into pursuing sinful, earthly pleasures for several years of his life.
Old Age
Old Age is an ambivalent man, as he looks out for Will—warning Will to resist the temptation of Fortune and her maids—but later physically hits Will, rendering him bald, toothless, sickly, and impotent.
Righteousness
Righteousness is one of the four daughters of God, alongside her sisters, Peace, Mercy, and Truth. Like Truth, Righteousness is pragmatic and initially believes that Hell is a place of permanent damnation, even for the important biblical figures who predated Jesus.
Mercy
Mercy is one of the four daughters of God, alongside her sisters, Peace, Righteousness, and Truth. She and Peace are joyful and optimistic, believing that Christ’s crucifixion will not only save the prophets and patriarchs in Hell but will also save mankind.
Fiend
The Fiend is one of the many devils in Hell who were cast out of Heaven for following Lucifer. The Fiend is sometimes referred to as the Devil, but sometimes those two figures act as different entities.
Antichrist
Antichrist is the leader of the evil forces that attack Unity, such as Fortune, Guile, Simony, and many friars. God’s messenger, Grace, explains to the Christian community that Antichrist’s goal is to destroy Conscience and the Church, appointing Pride as the Pope with Covetousness and Unkindness as cardinals.
Contrition
Contrition is Conscience’s cousin who is wounded by Hypocrisy, then drugged by Friar Flatterer so that he no longer feels remorse for sin.
Need
Need is a man who appears in Will’s waking life and in one of his dreams. Need proves himself to be conniving, as he tries to tempt Will into living his whole life as a beggar and pretending to be needy so that he never has to work hard.
Death
Like Old Age, Death is an ambivalent force. He is originally sent down by Kind (one of the representations of god) to protect the Christian community, but his very presence causes chaos.
Pride
Pride is one of the leaders of the evil forces that attack Unity. He is one of Antichrist’s followers and will be named Pope if Antichrist succeeds in destroying Conscience.
Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is one of the forces of evil that attacks Unity. He manages to do the most widespread damage, wounding several people in the Christian community—an event that leads to Friar Flatterer‘s admission into Unity, and the Christian community’s further destruction.
Presumption
Presumption is Pride’s sergeant-at-arms, who goes to Unity with Spoil-Love to announce to the Christian community that they are under attack.
Spoil-Love
Spoil-Love is Pride’s spy, who visits Unity with Pride’s sergeant-at-arms, Presumption, to tell the Christian community that they are under attack.
Courteous Speech
Courteous Speech is the person who lets Friar Flatterer into Unity, despite protests from Peace.
Judas
Judas is Jesus’ disciple who betrays Jesus by turning him into the authorities in exchange for money.
Mary
Mary is the mother of Jesus. She announces to Will and Piers Plowman that Jesus will joust in Jerusalem against the Fiend to win back Piers’ stolen fruit.
Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate is the Roman Governor who gives in to the angry crowd and allows Jesus to be crucified.
Longeus
Longeus is the blind knight who spears Jesus after he dies on the Cross. After doing so, he is overcome by remorse and cries out to Jesus for forgiveness.
Pilgrim
The pilgrim is the palmer (professional pilgrim) from whom society asks for directions to Truth. The pilgrim isn’t of real spiritual help, as he is preoccupied with earthly shrines.
Kind Wit
Kind Wit represents common sense. With help from an angel, he establishes laws for each of the three estates (social classes) to abide by.
Theology
Theology is the man who objects to Meed and False’s wedding, demanding they ask Conscience before a court of law if the marriage is allowed.
Love
Love is another name for Christ.
Mouse
The pragmatic mouse speaks up at the rats’ court procession and urges them to let go of their plan to tie a bell around the cat’s neck and instead accept the status quo.
Pardoner
The pardoner is the Church official who pretends to be a priest in order to cheat peasants out of their valuables in exchange for absolution from sin.
Dame-Work-When-It’s-Time-To
Piers Plowman’s wife
Do-Just-So-Or-Your-Dame-Will-Beat-You
The daughter of Piers Plowman and Dame-Work-When-It’s-Time-To.
Suffer-Your-Sovereigns-To-Have-Their-Will-Condemn-Them-Not-For-If-You-Do-You’ll-Pay-A-Dear-Price-Let-God-Have-His-Way-With-All-Things-For-So-His-Word-Teaches
The son of Piers Plowman and Dame-Work-When-It’s-Time-To.
Cato
Reason’s servant, alongside Tom-True-Tongue-Tell-Me-No-Tales-Nor-Lies-To-Laugh-At-For-I-Loved-Them-Never.
Tom-True-Tongue-Tell-Me-No-Tales-Nor-Lies-To-Laugh-At-For-I-Loved-Them-Never
One of Reason’s servants, alongside Cato.
Free Will
An allegorical figure that stands for individuals’ ability to make their own decisions. Free will helps to beat off the Devil using one of the three wooden poles.
Book
An allegorical figure with “two broad eyes,” who stands for the two halves of the Bible: the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Goblin
One of the devils of hell.
Unkindness
One of the cardinals of Antichrist.