"Piers Plowman": The influence and the effects of sermon structure and rhetoric in the B Text.
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AbstractCritics have offered many views about the structure of Piers Plowman. Provided with few clues, they have tried to determine from the dominant features the poem's organizing factors. However, since 1926, when G. R. Owst suggested in Preaching in Medieval England that the meaning of Piers would become clear if the poem were compared in its thematic and artistic elements with sermon literature (295-296), only a few critics have discussed Langland's use of the sermon form. This present study argues that Langland structured his poem as a sermon to answer the Dreamer's question, "How I may saue my soule?" (B. I. 84), and to explain that salvation is attained by knowing and observing the love commandments, a Scriptural theme frequently treated in the sermons of the time. By comparing the structure of Piers with that of the sermon as Robert of Basevorn describes in Forma praedicandi (1322), I show that Langland forms his poem with the use of sermon "ornaments": invention of theme, antetheme/protheme, prayer concluding the antetheme, restatement of theme, division and confirmation of divisions, and concluding prayer. In addition, I show that the visions and passus, which are interrupted with the Dreamer's awakening, form subdivisions in each of the sections. I also show that Langland uses dream-allegory, dramatic-narrative, and satirical exempla to embellish his explanation of salvation. This parallel of the "art" in Langland's poem with the "art" of preaching shows that the poem has a definite structural and thematic unity and that the logical plan makes Christian belief concerning salvation understandable, instructive, and persuasive.