Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus VII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Truth sends Piers Plowman a pardon “For him and for his heirs” that allows all those who faithfully help Piers work “to pass through purgatory quickly.” The pardon excludes those who don’t work, “Unless there’s a real reason that renders them beggars.” Those who can work are instructed to help those who genuinely can’t—old men, women with small children, and those who are ill or seriously injured.
The pardon is an absolute pardon, meaning that it absolves Piers and his followers from punishment in purgatory and guilt from sin. Note, though, that the pardon’s terms are focused not on its beneficiaries being able to pay for it. Rather, the pardon is provided only to those who work (with an exception for those who can’t work). Once again, the poem connects labor and work to Christian goodness.
Themes
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
A priest asks Piers Plowman for the opportunity to read the pardon and explain it to the people in English. When Piers hands it over, the priest is startled to see that the pardon is only two lines: “They that have done good shall go into life everlasting; / And they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” The priest proclaims that it is not a pardon at all. Seething with anger, Piers tears the pardon in half. Piers and the priest engage in an impassioned argument, which jolts Will awake.
Part of a priest’s duties was to translate Church documents aloud from Latin to English for the illiterate common people. However, the priest’s demand to read the pardon (and his subsequent rejection of the pardon as a genuine pardon) may have seemed like a challenge to Piers, implying that Piers doesn’t have the power to interpret the pardon’s meaning and belittling Piers for his low social standing. The Priest’s shock that the pardon is only two lines might also be read as a critique of the clergy’s establishment of more complicated rules and rituals, as such complications make the clergy more necessary and therefore more powerful.
Themes
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Hungry and poor, Will walks through the Malvern Hills thinking about his strange dream. He knows that “pardon and penance and prayers will save / Souls that have sinned seven times deadly,” but he thinks that trusting in Do-Well is even better.
The pardon’s declaration to do well and avoid doing evil sticks with Will in his waking life. He is actively seeking the understanding to lead a more Christian life, which prompts him to undertake a new quest to find what he refers to as Do-Well—who, like Truth, seems to be both a person and a value. 
Themes
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon