In Caroline M. Barron’s essay “William Langland: A London Poet,” Barron uncovers the background, and potential local of William Langland, author of Piers Plowman. Piers Plowman, to scholars and historian’s knowledge, was Langland’s entire life’s work and only text. This, along with the lack of information about Langland in Piers Plowman or in historical documents, makes the authorship, dating, and location of creation for this text difficult to trace. There is some scholarly consensus on dating because of the A, B and C version, but these dates are speculation. Although, dating is not as important to this particular text, scholars such as Anne Hudson argue that the Lollard aspects of the poem must be read in tandem with Wyclif’s life. Similarly, Barron’s article argues that location of the author during production, and determining where the author lived, is important to the work.
Barron notes the difficulty of extracting biographical information of this text, and cautions against the “autobiographical fallacy” or attempting to gain information about Langland from the dreamer’s vision (92). But, within the work, there are few geographic mentions, one being Malvern Hills which are referred to three times in the poem, and various place names within London. Yet, the presence of Malvern Hills in the text and dialect and verse is more indicative of a transplant and provides evidence for an author who lived in the countryside and moved to London in the fourteenth century (92). There are references to other place names outside of London in the text, but, expect for Malvern Hills, these references have a “generic, or universal, quality and may well have been chosen to serve the needs of meter or alliteration” (93).
For Barron, Langland’s identity as a London poet is important to his naïve discussion of government in the text. In Piers Plowman, Langland shows an understanding of law, but does not know “anything at all about government at the national level” (94). Langland gives the King a more absolutist roles, and only restrains this absolutism with reason and conscience, qualities the King must have. Langland also confuses the roles of a variety of governmental institutions, such as the Parliament. Although, he does have a precise understanding of local governments, including the mayor’s role in a town. This, along with his understanding of poverty, paints a picture of Langland as a potentially poor emigrant to the London area. Langland, according to Barron’s analysis of dialect and topographical mention, is typical of cosmopolitan men and women of the time, growing up in rural areas, moving to London, and then traveling throughout many regions and towns of England.
Barron’s article touched on many aspects of authorship, transitioning between dating, location, analysis of Langland’s depiction of government, and the final section discussing John But and Langland. The article was informative, and included, potentially, too many sub sections that were not clearly demarcated. The article, for someone who is widely ignorant of the Middle English period, was incredibly helpful and formative to my understanding of Langland, but I do question the decision to include the section of government in the middle of the article. As I read the article, the analysis seemed out of place, and could have benefited from its own article.