Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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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 Conscience, Patience, and Piers Plowman. Will embarks on several quests, including the search for Truth and the search for the Christian values of Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best. Will is deeply concerned with salvation, and most of the poem centers on one of Will’s very first questions to his first allegorical teacher, Holy Church: “How…may [I] save my soul?” Will is full of questions, making him an eager student, but his naivety makes him an annoyance to his less patient teachers, like Dame Study. Will himself is allegorical as well—although Will is a common name, will also means one’s mental capacity, as in one’s willpower. And so Will comes to stand for every person’s willpower. Ultimately, although Will is a devout follower of Christ, he still falls into sin and human corruption at times, such as when he gives into Fortune.

Will Quotes in Piers Plowman

The Piers Plowman quotes below are all either spoken by Will or refer to Will. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W. W. Nortona & Company edition of Piers Plowman published in 2006.
Prologue Quotes

I saw a tower on a hill-top, trimly built,
A deep dale beneath, a dungeon tower in it,
With ditches deep and dark and dreadful to look at.
A fair field full of folk I found between them,
Of human being of all sorts, the high and the low…

Related Characters: Will (speaker), Truth, Holy Church, Wrong
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus I Quotes

For James the gentle enjoined in his books
That faith without works is worse than nothing,
And as dead as a doornail unless the deed goes with it.
Faith without works is dead.

Related Characters: Holy Church (speaker), Will
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus VIII Quotes

Do-Well…and Do-Better and Do-Best the third
Are three fair virtues and are not far to find.
Whoever is meek of his mouth, mild of his speech,
True of his tongue and of his two hands,
And through his labor or his land earns his livelihood,
…Do-Well is with him.
Do-Better does the same, but he does much more.
He’s lowly as a lamb, lovely of speech;
…he helps where there’s need
…Do-Best is above both and bears a bishop’s crozier
That has a hook at one end to hold men in good lives.
A spike is on that staff to shove down the wicked…

Related Characters: Thought (speaker), Will, Do-Well, Do-Best, Do-Better
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus IX Quotes

Do-Well, my dear sir, is to do as law teaches,
To behave lovingly and humbly and harm no person;
But to love and to lend aid, believe me, that’s Do-Better;
To protect and provide for people young and old,
To heal them and to help them, is Do-Best of all.

Related Characters: Wit (speaker), Will, Do-Well, Do-Best, Do-Better
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus X Quotes

Can neither kinghood nor knighthood, as far as I can see,
Help at all toward Heaven when one’s hour comes,
Nor riches, nor revenue, nor royal lord’s estate.
Paul proves it impossible, rich men in Heaven.

Related Characters: Scripture (speaker), Will
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XI Quotes

And let folk of all factions, whether friends or enemies,
Love each other and help each other as they would themselves.
Whoever lends no help loves not, the Lord knows the truth,
And he commands every creature to conform himself to love
Other Christians as himself and his enemies as well.
For whoever hates us it’s our merit to love.

Related Characters: Trajan (speaker), Will
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XII Quotes

Just as the plumes of the peacock impede him in his flight,
So there is an impediment in possession of pennies and nobles
To all those who hold on to them until their tails are plucked.
And though the rich man repent then and start to rue the time
That he ever gathered such a great amount and gave away so little,
His language will sound in our Lord’s ear like a magpie’s chattering.

Related Characters: Imaginative (speaker), Will
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

“All these clerks,” I declared then, “that believe in Christ’s teaching,
Say in their sermons that neither Saracens nor Jews
Nor any creature of Christ’s likeness can be saved without Christendom.”

“Contra!” exclaimed Imaginative…
…“Salvabitur vix Justus in die judicii;
Ergo salvabitur.”

Related Characters: Will (speaker), Imaginative (speaker), Trajan
Page Number: 199-200
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XIII Quotes

Disce…doce, dilige inimicos.
Disce and Do-Well, doce and Do-Better, dilige and Do-Best:
I learned this from a lover once—Love was her name.
“With words and with works,” she said, “and will of your heart,
…learn to love, for the Lord of Heaven’s sake,
Your enemy in every way even as you love yourself.”

Related Characters: Love (speaker), Patience (speaker), Will
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XV Quotes

And for an example see how on trees in the summer time
There are some boughs that bear leaves and some bear none.
There is some sickness in the root of such sots of trees;
Just so parsons and priests and preachers of Holy Church
Are the root of the right faith to rule the people;
But where the root is rotten…
Shall never flower nor fruit grow nor fair leaf be green.

Related Characters: Anima (speaker), Will
Related Symbols: Tree
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Therefore by color nor by clergy, you’ll never come to know him,
Neither through words nor works, but through will alone,
And no clerk knows that, nor creature on earth
But Piers the Plowman, Petrus id est Christus.

Related Characters: Anima (speaker), Will, Piers Plowman
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XVI Quotes

…Piers’s fruit flowered and befell to be ripe.
And then Jesus should joust for it by judgment of arms
Which one should fetch the fruit, the Fiend or himself.

Related Characters: Mary (speaker), Will, Piers Plowman, Christ / Jesus, Fiend
Related Symbols: Tree
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XIX Quotes

Surely you know…
That knight, king, conqueror can be one person.
To be named a knight is fair, for men shall kneel to him.
To be called a king is fairer, for he can make knights;
But to be called a conqueror, that comes by special grace,
…To make lads lords of the lands he wins
And foul slaves of free men who will not follow his laws.

Related Characters: Conscience (speaker), Will, Christ / Jesus
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

This Jesus…when he was just a boy,
Turned water into wine, as holy words relate.
And there God of his grace began to Do-Well.
…And when he’d grown more mature…
…fed with two fishes and with five loaves
Near-famished folk, more than five thousand.
Then he comforted those full of care and acquired a greater name
Which was Do-Better...

Related Characters: Conscience (speaker), Will, Christ / Jesus, Do-Well, Do-Best, Do-Better
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Piers Plowman LitChart as a printable PDF.
Piers Plowman PDF

Will Character Timeline in Piers Plowman

The timeline below shows where the character Will appears in Piers Plowman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Corruption Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
The poem opens with the narrator, Will, wandering around the world, clothed like a sheep in “the habit of a hermit unholy... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
In his dream, Will sees a “field full of folk” nestled between a tower on a hill and a... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
...for the bishops, some counsel the king, while others are “like servants” to the nobility. Will thinks these bishops live “undevoutly” and worries that they will be condemned. (full context)
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
Will sees a king, followed by a group of knights, and the community names him their... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Still dreaming, Will sees a thousand rats and a few mice holding a “council for their common profit.”... (full context)
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Back in the “field full of folk,” Will sees all kinds of people in the bustling town, including bakers, brewers, butchers, tailors, and... (full context)
Passus I
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Corruption Theme Icon
Still in deep sleep, Will sees a beautiful woman (who later introduces herself as Holy Church) dressed in linen and... (full context)
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Will asks Holy Church about the dungeon in the valley that sits on the other side... (full context)
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Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
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Holy Church finally introduces herself by name to Will, telling him that he should already recognize her, for “I befriended you first and taught... (full context)
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Holy Church briefly teaches Will about the beginnings of Heaven and Hell. She explains that Christ created ten orders of... (full context)
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Holy Church explains to Will that Truth is the “trustiest treasure on earth,” and that this idea is imbedded in... (full context)
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Holy Church also teaches Will that “faith without works is worse than nothing, / And as dead as a doornail... (full context)
Passus II
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Before Holy Church departs, Will asks her to teach him how “to distinguish the false.” Holy Church tells Will to... (full context)
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In his dream, Will sees the preparations for Meed’s wedding. Many people are involved in the wedding planning, including... (full context)
Passus V
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Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
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Will wakes up from his dream only to drift back to sleep moments later. Once again,... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
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...comes to a close, a man named Repentance enters. When Repentance speaks, his words make Will “weep water from his eyes.” One by one, each of the Seven Deadly Sins come... (full context)
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...and common woman run off in search of a papal bull with bishop’s letters, but Will never sees them again. (full context)
Passus VII
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Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
...the pardon in half. Piers and the priest engage in an impassioned argument, which jolts Will awake. (full context)
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Hungry and poor, Will walks through the Malvern Hills thinking about his strange dream. He knows that “pardon and... (full context)
Passus VIII
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Will spends the summer wandering the world, now in search of Do-Well. One day, Will comes... (full context)
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Will walks alone through the woods and lies down to enjoy the sounds of the birds.... (full context)
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
...but also “helps where there’s need.” Do-Best is dressed as a bishop and admonishes sinners. Will thanks Thought for his teachings, but says he needs more “natural knowledge” to understand what... (full context)
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Thought and Will travel together for three days and eventually run into Wit, a lanky, serious man who... (full context)
Passus IX
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Wit tells Will and Thought that nearby is a castle constructed out of the four elements. Inside the... (full context)
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Will asks about Kind, and Wit explains that Kind is the creator who made all creatures... (full context)
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Wit ultimately explains to Will that to Do-Well “is to do as law teaches,” to Do-Better is “to love and... (full context)
Passus X
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Will meets Wit’s wife, Dame Study, who is suspicious of Will’s intentions for wanting to learn... (full context)
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Once he departs, Will follows Dame Study’s directions and soon finds Clergy, who greets him warmly. Clergy quickly launches... (full context)
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Clergy’s wife, Scripture, chimes in with her own teachings. She explains to Will that “neither kinghood nor knighthood,” “nor riches, nor revenue, nor royal lord’s estate” help a... (full context)
Passus XI
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Scripture scolds Will for not understanding her teachings. Will begins to cry and falls asleep, slipping into another... (full context)
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A man named Old Age warns Will to be cautious, as Fortune and her maids and will fail him during his “greatest... (full context)
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Will’s golden years come to an end, and he grows old and impoverished. Fortune abandons him,... (full context)
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Will longs to tell other people about his dream. A man named Lewte appears and tells... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
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...and upright moral character, Saint Gregory the Great intervened and Trajan was saved from Hell. Will thinks about how Trajan was saved “Not through prayer of a pope,” but through “lawful... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
...of love for God and other people. Continuing on the topic of love, Trajan teaches Will, “For whoever hates us it’s our merit to love.” He explains that it is also... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Still dreaming, Will sees Kind, who calls him by name. Will is “lifted aloft” and sees a variety... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
Awakening from one dream but still deep in another, Will finds himself face-to-face with a man named Imaginative. Imaginative scolds Will for being rude to... (full context)
Passus XII
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Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Imaginative teaches Will that an explanation of Do-Well is found in Paul’s Epistle when he writes, “Faith, hope,... (full context)
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...“he is lodged in the lowest part of Heaven” and “loosely…loiters there.” He also teaches Will that rich, sinful people who wait until the very end of their lives to repent... (full context)
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Will asks why so many clerks teach that no one can be saved without Christianity. To... (full context)
Passus XIII
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Will wakes up from his dream and wanders for many years like a friar. He thinks... (full context)
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Conscience appears to Will in another dream and invites him to a dinner with Clergy, Scripture, Patience, and a... (full context)
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Will is distressed by the way the Master of Divinity drinks excessive amounts of wine and... (full context)
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Will thinks that the Master of Divinity “Has no pity on us poor.” Angrily, he wishes... (full context)
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Will finally has his chance to ask the Master of Divinity his questions. Between gulps of... (full context)
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...sincere speech and steadfast belief.” Not long after embarking on their journey, Patience, Conscience, and Will come across a wafer-seller named Hawkin, or Activa Vita. Hawkin’s coat is splattered with stains,... (full context)
Passus XIV
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
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...“A removal from cares.” Overcome with remorse for his sins, Hawkin begins to weep, and Will suddenly wakes up. (full context)
Passus XV
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In his waking life, Will thinks so much about his dreams that he feels crazy. Other people think he’s crazy... (full context)
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Will adds that he would also like to “naturally, natively in my heart” have an understanding... (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
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...rotten, the tree can never thrive and flower like it’s supposed to. Anima explains to Will that John Chrysostom teaches the same thing—when a tree looks sickly, the roots are to... (full context)
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Will asks Anima about charity, explaining that he’s never seen charity play out in his life:... (full context)
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Will wishes he could meet Charity, but Anima says that without Piers Plowman’s help, Will has... (full context)
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Continuing his teaching about Charity, Anima tells Will that whether Charity is clothed in expensive furs or simple cloth, “…he’d hand it over... (full context)
Passus XVI
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Still dreaming, Will thanks Anima for his teachings but admits that he still is confused about Charity. Anima... (full context)
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Piers Plowman appears to Will and shows him the tree called Patience. Will notices the tree is propped up by... (full context)
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Will asks Piers Plowman about the three wooden poles, noting that they all seem to have... (full context)
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Will suddenly wakes up from his dream—but is still in the midst of another. He can... (full context)
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...Isaac, as a test to find out if Faith loved his son or God more. Will notices that Faith has a multitude of souls under his coat. As Faith talks about... (full context)
Passus XVII
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As Hope, Faith, and Will walk along the road, they come upon a Samaritan, riding on a mule on his... (full context)
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Touched by the Samaritan’s pity for the wounded man, Will catches up to the Samaritan and tells him about how Faith and Hope fled. The... (full context)
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Will asks the Samaritan about the Trinity, explaining what Faith and Hope have already taught him.... (full context)
Passus XVIII
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Will continues to wander around the world, now “Wool-chafed and wet-shoed.” He trudges around “Like a... (full context)
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Will descends with Christ to Hell, where he sees several women approaching. The first is a... (full context)
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...Peace, Truth, Mercy, and Righteousness reconcile and kiss one another. As music begins to play, Will wakes up and calls for his family to get ready for Easter Mass. (full context)
Passus XIX
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Will writes down the contents of his dream and leaves for church. In the middle of... (full context)
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Will asks why Conscience refers to him as Christ, not Jesus. Conscience says that Will should... (full context)
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Will witnesses the Holy Ghost descending upon Piers Plowman and his companions at Pentecost. The men... (full context)
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...and instead asserts his superiority over the entire Christian community. As the vicar abandons Unity, Will wakes up and writes down his dream. (full context)
Passus XX
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In his waking life, Will wanders the world feeling “Heavy-hearted” and doesn’t know where to find food. Will meets a... (full context)
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Will drifts asleep again, this time dreaming that Antichrist, appearing in human form, destroying the tree... (full context)
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In the chaos, Old Age beats Will, leaving Will bald, nearly deaf, toothless, and inflicted with gout and impotence. When Death comes... (full context)
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...“see the friars had funds who flatter for need.” Conscience cries out for Grace, and Will wakes up. (full context)