Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus II Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Before Holy Church departs, Will asks her to teach him how “to distinguish the false.” Holy Church tells Will to look to his left, where False and Favel, along with their friends, stand. Among the group, Will sees a stunning woman dressed in lavish garments and dripping with precious jewels, red-gold ribbons, and expensive furs. Holy Church tells Will that this woman is named Meed and is as intimate with the papacy as Holy Church herself. Whereas Holy Church is a daughter of God and is set to marry Mercy, Meed is the daughter of a false man with a “fickle tongue”—not to be confused with the man Meed is set to marry, False Fickle-Tongue.
To better understand Truth, Will wants to know about false—a dichotomy that points back to Truth in the castle on the hill opposite of Wrong in the dungeon of the valley. In the scene that appears, Holy Church points out a woman named Meed, who represents rewards and gifts. In the Middle Ages, the word “meed” referred to undeserved gifts. Meed’s parentage (one holy parent, one sinful parent) as well as her love life reveals how the concept of meed can be used for both good and bad.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
In his dream, Will sees the preparations for Meed’s wedding. Many people are involved in the wedding planning, including common people, clerks, and knights. Will notices that two men, Simony and Civil, seem particularly intimate with Meed during this process. Eventually, the ceremony is set to begin, and a man named Favel runs to get Meed from her bedroom and “like a broker,” brings her to the wedding ceremony.
The word simony refers to the practice of selling Church offices or privileges (like selling indulgences which the Church decreed would lighten people’s punishment for their sins). Since the practice of selling indulgences quickly became corrupt, it’s clear that the character Simony is too. Civil, on the other hand, refers to civil law (not criminal law), which in the Middle Ages, was rife with corruption in the form of bribery. Meanwhile, Favel is the Middle English word for greed.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Simony and Civil conduct the ceremony by reading a “charter” procured by their friends Liar and Guile. As they read, Simony and Civil declare that Meed is not being married for any of her good qualities but for her property—her fiancé, False, “fancies her for her knows she’s rich.” As part of their speech, Simony and Civil proclaim that once joined by marriage, Meed and False will be “princes in pride” and will live a life of slander, disobedience, boastfulness, gluttony, and sloth. Closing the ceremony, the two officiants recite the vow, “to have and to hold and their heirs after them / A dwelling with the Devil, and be damned forever.”
Instead of reading the standard wedding speech that most officiants recite, Simony and Civil read a charter, which is a legal document that expresses one’s rights or property. This emphasizes that False sees Meed as a commodity that will increase his riches, not a person that he loves. In addition, Simony and Civil alter the typical wedding vows (to have and to hold, in sickness and in health) by distorting them into an allegiance to evil.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
A man named Theology objects to the wedding, saying that it will anger Truth. He reminds the crowd that Meed is the daughter of a woman of legitimate birth, Amends, and thus has been instructed by God to marry Truth. Theology declares that Meed and False must go to London to ask Conscience in front of a court of law for permission to wed. Upon hearing this, False and Favel prepare to bribe anyone they need to in order to ensure that the marriage goes as planned.
The person of Truth is further complicated with the Theology’s assertion that Meed is meant to marry Truth. In this instance, Truth seems like God but is not quite God himself. This comment also reveals that God intends Meed (rewards and gifts) to be used for holy purposes (by marrying Truth) rather than evil, corrupt purposes (by marrying False). Meed’s intent to marry False, however, seems to suggest the way that rewards and gifts always seem to slip into corruption.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
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Meed, False, and many of their other companions depart for London, all led by Guile. Along the way, Soothness passes the group and arrives at court before them. He warns Conscience of False and Favel’s impure intentions, and Conscience warns the King. The King promises to hang False and his companions for their evil intents and instructs Meed to be brought to him. Dread, however, overhears the King’s proclamation and warns False. Fearful of death, False, Guile, Liar, and many others flee, leaving Meed to face the King alone.
As his name suggests, Conscience represents one’s ability to discern right from wrong. The King’s willingness to listen to Conscience, as well as his vow to punish False and his friends, reveals that the King is good and just—an ideal King. False, Guile, and Liar prove themselves to be flighty companions when they abandon Meed, suggesting that choosing evil is ultimately unsatisfying and its benefits are short lived.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon