Piers Plowman


William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus VIII Summary & Analysis

Will spends the summer wandering the world, now in search of Do-Well. One day, Will comes across two Friars, who are Masters of the Minorites, and asks them if they know where he can find Do-Well. The friars claim that Do-Well lives with them, but Will is skeptical. The friars launch into a complicated story about a boat, which Will doesn’t understand because he doesn’t have the “natural knowledge.” He tells the friars that he will learn better if he continues on his quest.
The Minorites are one of the four groups of friars, pointing back to when Will saw friars “from all four orders” acting dishonestly in the “field full of folk” by preaching a version of the Bible that will make themselves look good. These friars prove no different. They try to make themselves look good by claiming that Do-Well lives among them—a statement Will openly rejects. Once again, Will is after experiential knowledge that he can learn firsthand rather than relying on flawed friars’ teachings.
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Will walks alone through the woods and lies down to enjoy the sounds of the birds. He soon falls asleep and slips into another dream. In his dream, a large man named Thought appears before him. Will asks Thought where he can find Do-Well, and Thought explains that Do-Well—along with Do-Better and Do-Best—aren’t difficult to find.
Will’s third dream vision begins. Thought’s teachings reveal that Do-Well is just one part of a trio that also includes Do-Better and Do-Best. These three, which are both characters and Christian values, also are a subtle reference to the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Thought says that Do-Well resides with those who earn their wages through hard, honest labor. Do-Better is similar to Do-Well 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 they mean. Thought suggests Will look for Wit to find the answers to his remaining questions.
Thought’s explanation of Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best draw on three key themes in the poem: labor and idleness, good works and salvation, and penance and repentance. Once again, Will is overwhelmed by these intellectual religious teachings and is instead in search of experiences that can bring those teachings to life for him. 
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
Thought and Will travel together for three days and eventually run into Wit, a lanky, serious man who intimidates Will. Thought mediates the discussion between Will and Wit, asking Wit to share what he knows about Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best.
Near the beginning of the poem, Wit served as one of Wrong’s shady lawyers in the case of Peace versus Wrong, and advocated for Wrong being allowed to buy his way out of punishment for his crimes. But now Wit appears as a morally upright teacher. This switch suggests that much like the character himself, the human wit (intellectual ability) can be used for good or bad.
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
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