Piers the Ploughman, written about three hundred years before Pilgrim’s Progress, is done in a similar allegorical style. A blending of prophecy and satirical comedy, it is the great representative English poem of the late Middle Ages. The work of an obscure fourteenth-century cleric, Piers the Ploughman is concerned with the largest of all poetic themes, the meaning of man?s life in relation to his ultimate destiny. This spiritual allegory is set against a colourful background of teeming medieval life between the “Tower of Truth” and the “Dungeon of Falsehood.”
Originally published in 1959, the Penguin Classic edition has an introduction by the translator, J. Frank Goodridge; appendices; and notes with a book-by-book commentary on the allegory. This is part of Hewitt’s Lightning Literature & Composition curriculum. From our Guide by Michael G. Gaunt:
Piers the Ploughman, as you will see when you read this work, is an allegory. . . . The surface story of Piers is that a poor wanderer has a series of dreams. In these dreams he meets a variety of characters who teach him Christian theology. These lessons are presented sometimes as lectures and at other times as good and bad examples of how to live. His teachers are characters such as Learning, Repentance, and Conscience. These are allegorical characters – personified character traits and philosophical points of view. Piers the Ploughman is not the main character of this work; he is not the dreamer of these educational dreams. Piers, instead, is one of the most important guides for the dreamer. Piers, in fact, takes on Christ-like characteristics and is one of the main characters used as a good example for the dreamer. Much of the dreamer’s effort is spent trying to find three characters: Do-well, Do-better, and Do-best. These characters can be seen as three steps towards leading the most perfect life available to fallen mankind. In fact, the “books” or chapters of this lengthy poem were called passus, or “steps,” by the original author, indicating both the progression of an argument as well as steps on a journey towards an imitation of Christ.