Further reading

Alford, John. A. "The Design of the Poem." In A Companion to Piers Plowman, edited by John A. Alford, 29-65. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Daniel F. Pigg

Piers Plowman: Passus 7 William Langland (ca.

1381—1382) As Passus 7 opens, Truth decides to give a pardon to Piers and his heirs. Kings, bishops, merchants, laborers, and even lawyers and beggars have the opportunity to receive the pardon, if they have lived justly. A priest demands to read the pardon because he is familiar with them; however, the priest fails to recognize the exact words as a pardon, after which Piers tears up the document out of "pure tene" (l. 115). Piers and the priest start arguing, which in turn awakes the Dreamer, Will.

Passus 7 is the last passus of the second vision, which started with Reason's sermon to the "field full of folk," the confession of the seven deadly sins (Passus 5) and was followed by the attempt to go on pilgrimage to "Saint Truth," leading the pilgrims to the plowing of the half-acre under Piers Plowman's guidance (Passus 6). Some critics have interpreted this vision as the logical pre-Reformation Christian sequence of sermon, confession, repentance, pilgrimage, and pardon.

The climax of this passus occurs when Piers tears up the pardon, a dramatic scene that has led to an overflow of interpretations. The B-text shows subtle changes from the A-text; however, the C-text has a significant change: It omits the tearing of the pardon. Most agree that William Langland feared the misinterpretation of this scene, especially after the Peasants' Revolt, and because of Lollardism, which found inspiration in Langland's work.

Pre-Reformation Christianity taught that sins were forgiven through sacramental confession—only canonical temporal punishment could be remitted through a pardon; however, most people believed that a pardon could do both. The pardon reads as follows: Et qui bona egerunt ibunt in vitam eternam; / Qui vero mala, in ignem eternum. (And those who have done well shall go into eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire, ll. 110-111). Scholars have debated who is going to be saved: The pilgrims confess and work hard; the Sins confess, but insincerely; the "wastours" are indolent about both. Most scholars accept the pardon's validity because it comes from Truth, who represents God, making its tearing even more confusing. Is it Lang-land's way of showing his contempt for the corrupt selling of papal indulgences? Does Piers recognize himself as a failure and throw himself on God's mercy? or does he tear the pardon because he realizes that it lacks mercy? Whatever the case, the tearing brings the connection between good works and mercy into question.

See also Piers Plowman (overview).

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