Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Field Full of Folk

The busy, bustling “field full of folk” that Will sees in his first few dreams represents society, which is populated by humans from each of the three estates, or social classes: the clergy (first estate)…

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Cat

The neighborhood cat that torments the rats represents a tyrannical ruler and the danger of unbridled power. The cat’s behavior means that the rats live in perpetual fear, mirroring the impact of a tyrannical ruler…

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Castle on the Hill

The castle on the hill, which lies on one side of the “field full of folk,” and opposite of the dungeon in the valley, symbolizes Heaven. Truth, one of the representations…

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Dungeon in the Valley

The dungeon in the valley, which lies on the opposite side of the “field full of folk” from the castle on the hill, symbolizes Hell. Holy Church explains to Will that the…

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Hawkin’s Coat

Hawkin’s coat, which is splattered with numerous stubborn stains, symbolizes Christendom, meaning the Christian community, while the stains represent sin. Hawkin laments to Patience, Conscience, and Will that laundering the coat only…

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Tree

The tree appears several times throughout the poem, but each time, the tree symbolizes the Christian community. One of Will’s many teachers, Anima, explains that society is like a tree whose roots (the…

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Three Wooden Poles

The three wooden poles that support the tree of Patience and aid Piers Plowman in attacking evil forces who try to steal the tree’s fruits symbolize the Trinity. Will notices that the three poles are…

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Hand

The hand in the Samaritan’s teaching represents the Trinity. The hand is composed of several different parts—a palm, fingers, and a fist—while still remaining one unit, a hand. Likewise, the Trinity is one God…

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Four Oxen

The four oxen that God’s messenger, Grace gives Piers Plowman for the purpose of plowing his field symbolize the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The largest ox is Luke, just as the Book of…

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Four Horses

The four horses that God’s messenger, Grace, gives Piers Plowman symbolize the four Fathers of the Western Church—Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great, and Saint Jerome. The four horses are meant to…

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Two Harrows

A harrow is a tool drawn by horses and used to plow the land. The two harrows that God’s messenger, Grace gives Piers Plowman symbolize the Old Testament and the New Testament. The harrows are…

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Four types of seeds

The four types of seeds that God’s messenger, Grace gives Piers Plowman to plant represent the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. For these virtues to be grown successfully, Piers must use…

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