Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Themes and Colors
Love Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Penance and Repentance Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
Labor vs. Idleness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Piers Plowman, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love Theme Icon

Piers Plowman follows the protagonist, Will, through a series of eight complex dream visions (plus two additional dreams within dreams), where he learns from a wide variety of allegorical figures. With Will’s teachers as a mouthpiece, the poem asserts that the life of a Christian must revolve around love, just as Christianity itself does. However, such love must extend beyond loving God to loving others, especially one’s enemies. Piers Plowman asserts that although such widespread love sounds difficult, everyone is capable of giving love.

Christianity rests on a foundation of love. Wit’s wife, Dame Study, affirms that Theology (the study of God) is laced with love. She says that since Theology “…allows so much to Love, I love it the better, / For wherever Love is leader, there’s no lack of grace.” Love makes Theology worth exploring, since without this love, Theology “would be a lame study.” Earlier in the poem, love is conflated with Christ himself. Holy Church explains to Will, “Love is leader of the Lord’s people in Heaven.” Love, meaning Christ, is the “street that goes straight to Heaven.” In this way, love is both the way to Christ and Christ himself. Holy Church also defines God in terms of love, referring to him as “Deus caritas,” meaning God is love. She says that God declares Truth, which is a “love-gift.” Throughout the poem, Truth is one of the two representations of God (alongside Kind). Thus, the Holy Church means that God and his message are imbued with love. Later in the text, during the Harrowing of Hell, Christ rescues “those that our Lord loved,” showing that Christianity centers on a reciprocal love between God and his people.

Because love in Piers Plowman is a fundamental part of Christianity, Christians are called to love other people—including their enemies. Scripture, Clergy’s wife, teaches Will that loving God and loving others is an essential part of receiving salvation: “…love your God as dearest love of all, / And then all Christian creatures… / And thus it behooves him to love that hopes to be saved.” Building on Scripture’s teaching, the Samaritan, a biblical figure from the Gospel of Luke, teaches Will that he must love his fellow Christians as much as he loves himself. However, the poem points out that Christians cannot be selective with who they love. Christians are called to love people from all walks of life, as represented by the “field full of folk” from the Prologue. Kind, one of the two representations of God, tells Will that the most important thing to do during one’s lifetime is to learn to love, for “If you love folk faithfully,” God will always provide for you. Likewise, Roman Emperor Trajan, whom Will meets in a dream-within-a-dream, instructs Will to love “…folk of all factions, whether friends or enemies.” Loving people from all walks of life means that Christians must also love their enemies and those who frustrate them. When Piers Plowman is angered by the people who refuse to work, he calls upon Hunger for help. Piers tells Hunger, “…they’re my blood brothers, for God bought us all. / Truth taught me once to love them every one.” Piers knows that he is called by God (Truth) to love all people, even when he feels frustrated. Hunger affirms that such non-discriminatory love is what “the law of Kind [i.e. God] directs.” Likewise, Patience teaches Will to love “Your enemy in every way even as you love yourself.” Patience’s teaching highlights that loving one’s enemy is done “for the Lord of Heaven’s sake,” meaning that loving one’s enemies is part of loving God.

Even though constantly showering others with love sounds difficult, Piers Plowman affirms that everyone is capable of giving love. The Samaritan, a biblical figure from the Gospel of Luke, explains to Will that “no one is so sick or so much a wretch / That he may not love if he likes… / And love them like himself, and lead a better life.” Love is possible even for those who are physically ill or have hardened hearts. Even Roman Emperor Trajan, a non-Christian, lived his life with such love and upright moral character that he was saved from Hell and allowed to dwell in the lowest part of Heaven.

Piers Plowman asserts that just as Christianity centers on love, so should the life of a Christian. Much of Piers Plowman is marked by sharp, often-overt criticisms of the Church, but the emphasis on love is a reminder that the poem is not critical of Christianity itself but the way that the Church has given into human corruption. In the text, William Langland urges his readers to recognize that Christianity hinges on love and to carry over this love into their daily lives. Langland emphasizes what is peppered throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament: love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies. Piers Plowman provides particular emphasis on the latter—love your enemies—suggesting that for Langland, loving one’s enemies could be an antidote for the tumultuous political, religious, and social climate of the late fourteenth century.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Love ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love appears in each passus of Piers Plowman. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
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Love Quotes in Piers Plowman

Below you will find the important quotes in Piers Plowman related to the theme of Love.
Passus V Quotes

If any man does me a good turn or helps me at need,
I’m unkind in return for his courtesy and cannot understand it,
For I have and always have had some of a hawk’s manners;
I’m not lured with love unless something’s lying under the thumb.

Related Characters: Sloth (speaker), Repentance
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus IX Quotes

Do-Well, my dear sir, is to do as law teaches,
To behave lovingly and humbly and harm no person;
But to love and to lend aid, believe me, that’s Do-Better;
To protect and provide for people young and old,
To heal them and to help them, is Do-Best of all.

Related Characters: Wit (speaker), Will, Do-Well, Do-Best, Do-Better
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XI Quotes

And let folk of all factions, whether friends or enemies,
Love each other and help each other as they would themselves.
Whoever lends no help loves not, the Lord knows the truth,
And he commands every creature to conform himself to love
Other Christians as himself and his enemies as well.
For whoever hates us it’s our merit to love.

Related Characters: Trajan (speaker), Will
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XII Quotes

“All these clerks,” I declared then, “that believe in Christ’s teaching,
Say in their sermons that neither Saracens nor Jews
Nor any creature of Christ’s likeness can be saved without Christendom.”

“Contra!” exclaimed Imaginative…
…“Salvabitur vix Justus in die judicii;
Ergo salvabitur.”

Related Characters: Will (speaker), Imaginative (speaker), Trajan
Page Number: 199-200
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XIII Quotes

Disce…doce, dilige inimicos.
Disce and Do-Well, doce and Do-Better, dilige and Do-Best:
I learned this from a lover once—Love was her name.
“With words and with works,” she said, “and will of your heart,
…learn to love, for the Lord of Heaven’s sake,
Your enemy in every way even as you love yourself.”

Related Characters: Love (speaker), Patience (speaker), Will
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XVI Quotes

…Piers’s fruit flowered and befell to be ripe.
And then Jesus should joust for it by judgment of arms
Which one should fetch the fruit, the Fiend or himself.

Related Characters: Mary (speaker), Will, Piers Plowman, Christ / Jesus, Fiend
Related Symbols: Tree
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
Passus XVIII Quotes

The bitterness that you have brewed, imbibe it yourself
Who are doctor of death, the drink you made.
For I who am Lord of Life, love is my drink
And for that drink today I died upon earth,
I struggled so I’m thirsty still for man’s soul’s sake.

Related Characters: Christ / Jesus (speaker), Lucifer, Satan
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis: