Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus XV Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his waking life, Will thinks so much about his dreams that he feels crazy. Other people think he’s crazy too, as his wild raving makes him seem like a fool. Reason takes pity on Will and helps him fall back asleep. He slips into another dream, this time coming face-to-face with a man named Anima, who goes by several other names as well, including Animus, Mens, Memoria, Ratio, Sensus, Conscientia, Amor, and Spiritus. Will jokes that Anima is like a bishop, since bishops are also referred to by many names. From this comment, Anima realizes that Will “would like to learn everything that lies behind their names, / And behind mine.”
Will’s fifth dream vision begins. Earlier, Anima was the beautiful woman who Kind placed in a castle guarded by Sir Inwit and his sons, but here, Anima is a man. Anima still represents the soul, and his various other names (all in Latin) reveal all of the soul’s functions. Anima is also “Principle of Life or Being,” “Will,” “Mind,” “Memory,” “Reason,” “Sense,” “Perception,” “Conscience,” “Love,” and “Spirit.”
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Will adds that he would also like to “naturally, natively in my heart” have an understanding of all of the sciences and arts. Anima tells Will that wanting to know so much makes Will “one of Pride’s knights,” since the same desire for knowledge is what caused Lucifer’s downfall. Anima explains that craving such endless knowledge goes against Kind. He points out that friars are often guilty of the same thing, “…showing off high learning / More for pomp than for pure charity; the people know the truth.”
Will’s thirst for knowledge makes him “one of Pride’s knights,” meaning that Will is a follower of Pride for wanting to know so much. This means that Will is like the friars (and Lucifer) who seek education just to show off, not to help others, just like the Master of Divinity at Patience’s feast.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Anima explains that society is like a tree. Some branches are barren, while others have healthy growth, and this disparity means that the tree’s roots are sick. Anima explains, “Just so parsons and priests and preachers… / Are the root of the right faith to rule the people.” When the roots of the tree are 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 blame, and when society seems “undisciplined and irreligious, without doubt the priesthood is not healthy.”
Anima draws on the teachings of John Chrysostom, one of the Fathers of the Early Church. John Chrysostom was known for the way he voiced (and disapproved of) corruption among authority figures in the Church. However, the passage that Anima quotes and attributes is actually not from John Chrysostom but is from an unknown author.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Will asks Anima about charity, explaining that he’s never seen charity play out in his life: “I have lived in land…my name is Long Will, / And I have never found full charity.” He explains that he’s only seen people act charitably when they know they will be repaid. Anima teaches Will that that’s not Charity. Instead, Charity is “…glad with all who’re glad, and good to all wicked / And loves and lends help to all that our Lord made.” Anima explains that Charity is a “sweeter sustenance” than bread.
Will’s strange comment, “I have lived in land…my name is Long Will,” has extraordinary significance. This line is why scholars call the author of the poem, William Langland, since all that is otherwise known about the author is found within the context of the poem. This line also suggests that the protagonist, Will, may also represent the author. Meanwhile, Anima’s teachings build on Will’s knowledge of good works, revealing that good works should be freely given to all people.
Themes
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
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Will wishes he could meet Charity, but Anima says that without Piers Plowman’s help, Will has no hope of meeting Charity. Piers Plowman knows Charity better than anyone because Piers is empathetic to other people and is attuned to God’s will. Anima says other people aren’t as pure—many beggars “…look like lambs and seem life-holy” but are just putting on an act to receive more alms. Anima calls Piers Plowman “Petrus id est Christus,” and affirms that he is not a fraud like many hermits are.
Anima’s comment that beggars often “look like lambs and seem life-holy” refers back to the second line of the poem, when Will says, “I clad myself in clothes as I’d become a sheep; / In the habit of a hermit unholy of works.” This suggests that prior to his dream visions, Will, himself may have been one such beggar. This passage is also significant for the way Anima directly links Piers Plowman to Christ, stating, “Peter [a nickname for Piers], that is, Christ.”
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Continuing his teaching about Charity, Anima tells Will that whether Charity is clothed in expensive furs or simple cloth, “…he’d hand it over happily to any one who needed it.” However, Charity is elusive. Although Charity frequents the king’s court, he refuses to attend if Covetousness is serving on the council. Charity also rarely goes among the common people “Because of brawling and backbiting and bearing false witness.” He also rarely is seen among the bishop’s representatives, since “…their lawsuits last overlong unless they get silver.”
Anima’s comment that Charity is rarely found among the common people is a play on words. On the surface, Anima explains that the person named Charity rarely associates with the king’s court, the commoners, or the clergy. However, Anima’s comment is also a social criticism, revealing that charity (as a value and an action) is practically nonexistent on every level of society.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Anima declares that people will do well to remember that even though humans suffer greatly, “…God suffered for us more.” Likewise, the holy saints lived lives of suffering, marked by penance and poverty. Anima explains that even Jesus’ early followers lived humble lives, as “…Paul practiced basket-making, / And earned with his hands what his stomach had need of,” and “Peter fished for his food.” Anima teaches that these days, it seems that the rich only help the rich, which isn’t much different from someone who uses a bucket full of fresh river water “to wet down the Thames.”
Anima’s analogy of using water “to wet down” the river reveals the absurdity in the rich’s tendency to only help their fellow rich men. Like the tree whose branches are either completely barren or thriving, the poor are ignored and sink deeper into poverty. Anima contrasts this behavior with venerated Christian figures that people should try to emulate—such as Peter and Paul who, despite their towering religious importance, knew the value of earning their livelihood.
Themes
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Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
Anima tells the story of a Christian man named Mohammed who trained a dove by putting corn in his ear so the dove would fly to him. Mohammed traveled the world giving sermons and used his trained dove to pretend that he was God’s messenger. Anima explains that Mohammed’s trick “…brought into misbelief men and women, / So that learned there and unlearned still believe in his laws.” Likewise, friars and hermits are like Mohammed, and their dove is greed. 
In the Middle Ages, many people believed that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a Christian who went astray and used his trained dove to make crowds believe it was the Holy Ghost. Thus, Anima’s story paints Muhammad as a trickster who leads people astray. By comparing the clergy to Muhammad, Anima is saying that the clergy itself has gone astray and, rather than offer true Christian teachings, uses tricks to please and influence the people.
Themes
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Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Anima says that even though “…Christ’s Cross that overcame death and deadly sin” should be revered, “Both rich and religious” people only worship the cross that is stamped in their gold coins.
The “rich and religious” people who are in love with money likely refer to the nobility and the clergy, respectively.
Themes
Corruption Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon