The portion you read culminates with a Major Crux: What does tearing the pardon mean? Essay

Published: 2021-07-20 06:40:05
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It is safe to assume that the tearing of the pardon at the end of Passus VII signifies more than a criticism of the excessive trust people placed in religious documents of that type in the late fourteenth century. Indeed, this mindset was commonly criticised even in sermons of the time. The actions of Piers, in destroying the pardon, reveal to the reader his discomfort in living as a man who is concerned with his place in the physical and the spiritual world and feels himself torn as a result. The provision of a pardon is expected to function as the final act in the process of penitence, as a sign of forgiveness.
Piers rejects this satisfaction and, consequently, the reader is forced to struggle with the reasoning behind his actions. The pardon as a physical manifestation of apparent spiritual change emerges as extremely problematic as does the implication of whether it is won by grace or labour. The events preceding Piers’ receipt of the pardon are central to the reader’s understanding of his actions. Langland attempts to inform the reader, through the events of passus VI, of the conflicting forces of God’s mercy and man’s need to earn it through work.
Moreover, the uncertain nature of these events has implications for the reader’s understanding of Langland’s intentions for the poem and the extent to which he allows the possibility of broad and discursive interpretation of it. The tearing of the pardon disrupts the reader’s expectation of the process of penitence being played out in Passus V-VII. This idea of interrupting familiar patterns of behaviour is initiated by Piers’ insistence in Passus V that he must postpone guiding the pilgrims to ‘St. Truthe’ because he has a ‘half acre to erie by the heighe weye’.
Indeed, the ploughing eventually displaces the pilgrimage and the reader is left to infer that the labour Piers gives the pilgrims is the means by which they fulfil the demands of Truthe rather than through the pilgrimage they initially expected. This is made explicit early in the passus when Piers sets the women to work saying ‘so commaundeth Truthe’. The implications for the reader of this interruption of the pilgrimage and its exchange for ploughing are that they come to equate physical labour with spiritual fulfilment in the poem.
The terms of reference Langland uses in this section of the poem are thus centred on the idea that physical work will fulfil the pilgrims. This mindset emerges as the similar to the content of the pardon where ‘Do wel and have wel’ is presented as the route to God and salvation. Indeed, the author extends this concept to the more direct comparison of spiritual fulfilment with the satisfaction of hunger. this case, that will The sequence of events in passus VI reveals that it is only physical need, a desire for food in motivate the pilgrims to work and even this has only a short-term effect.
Piers invokes the figure of Hunger in an attempt to control the pilgrims and the latter obliges. The dreamer recounts that Hunger rebukes the representative figure of Wastour and ‘wrong hym so by the wombe that al watrede hise eighen’. The physical pain inflicted on the pilgrims is clear from these words but their response is short lived and respite from Hunger sees Wastour again ‘wandren aboute’ rather than working. Without an active need there is no catalyst for change in the pilgrims. It is revealed to the reader that Piers actively appreciates the spiritual implications of the pilgrim’s actions.
Moreover, when the pardon arrives, later in the poem, he is aware that it represents a spiritual change of precisely the kind that the pilgrims lack the motivation to achieve. His attempts to enable them to work and reap food as a reward have failed and in invoking Hunger he uses the words: ‘Awreke me of thise wastours…that this world shendeth! ‘ Piers asks hunger to avenge him for the damage that the behaviour of the pilgrims is inflicting on the world. The affirmation that the pilgrims’ actions will harm the world reveals to the reader that Piers is aware of the broader spiritual concepts involved.
A quality of separation is created in the poem because Piers functions on a more profound level of spiritual understanding than the pilgrims, as he understands what their actions signify. The reader is also able to experience this understanding through him because they too can appreciate the spiritual dimension that exists in the events of passus VI. Thus, his actions on receiving the pardon are of particular importance because Piers acts as a means through which the reader can perceive Langland’s meaning.
These events preceding the appearance of the Priest with the pardon are vital in appreciating the reasoning behind Piers tearing it ‘atweyne’. Essentially, Langland has allowed the reader to gain access to the idea that men will, as Hunger says, ‘Labores manuum tuarum’ For the labours of thy hands. This is exactly the sentiments of the pardon when it arrives which offers to man either that ‘God shal have thi soule’ or ‘hope thow noon other’ according to his actions. The question of why Piers tears the pardon can be answered by his frustration that the pilgrims have no motivation to work for their own good, as described above.
They have already proved that the words of the pardon will not function for them because only their physical needs are important enough to them to act upon. The rejection of the pardon becomes, in itself, a physical act as Piers tears it and this seems a fitting response because it is the pilgrims’ inability to function outside satisfying their immediate physical need that leads to the frustration that Piers experiences. However, the reader must also appreciate that the pardon comes to Piers from Treuthe who ‘bad hym golde hym at home and erien hise leyes’.
Treuthe, as the figure representing God in the poem, encourages the continuation of Piers’ labour and offers the pardon to ‘hise heires for everemoore after’. Thus, the idea that Piers tears the pardon through his frustration at the way in which he needed to invoke Hunger to force the pilgrims to labour does not take account of his personal reaction to the pardon. The reader knows he has found elements of the pilgrims’ behaviour problematic but his place within it in deciding who ought to receive food also casts doubt into his mind.
His uncertainty is clear when, after Hunger advises him to feed the truly needy and ignore the idle, he says ‘Mighte I synnlees do as thow seist? ‘ Piers is unsure about whether he ought to have mercy on the beggars or ignore them. When the pardon arrives, it is inconclusive in this question leaving Piers’ uncertainty intact. Moreover, this event is symptomatic of the larger recognition the reader must make that the pardon by no means offers Piers satisfaction in his struggle to understand the processes by which he can seek salvation. The words of the pardon appear practical and simple.
It is clear that to ‘do wel’ is the route to God but the reader also struggles to assimilate, from the creeds that have been presented in the poem so far, what the pardon means by this. The nature of what the priest brings, as a pardon, is God’s mercy physically represented. This aspect of it bears a link to Holy Chirche’s assertion that God ‘mercy gan graunte’ and her counsel to ‘haveth ruthe on the povre’. These ideas, principally those of the New Testament, are then reversed by the contents of the pardon that suggests that God’s love must be earned by good works.
Essentially Piers, in revealing the difficulty he faces in deciding whether or not to be merciful to the beggars, has opened up to the reader the central opposition in the pardon. The reader can see Piers as a man who is struggling with the same weighty spiritual matters that he/she is contending with in the poem as a whole. When Piers tears the pardon the reader is forced to consider that for Piers, the problematic nature of these two elements of the spectrum of Christian belief means they cannot be contained in one whole document or approach.
Tearing the pardon and recognising that these two elements of belief may not be compatible does not end Piers’ personal struggle to discover the way in which he can gain salvation. Indeed, Piers continues to respond to the pardon, even following its destruction, in the same terms of reference, those of hunger and satisfaction that have functioned as a representative for the spiritual life of the characters since the opening of passus VI.
Moreover, he shifts from the previous approach to hunger saying: ‘I shal cessen of my sowing…and swynke nought so harde, Ne aboute my bely joye so bisy be na moore; Of preires and of penaunce my plough shal ben herafter. ‘ Piers chooses hunger rather than satisfaction through labour because he will no longer sow and plough. However, the last line in the above quotation indicates that a transition has taken place. Piers has swapped the allegorical dimension that labour and satisfaction of hunger previously held and makes it overtly clear that he intends to aim his efforts directly at spiritual satisfaction.
He will continue to labour but in the spiritual context of ‘preires’ and ‘penaunce’. Essentially, Piers decides to continue struggling with the labour that has characterised his existence but he has made a decision to ultimately concentrate on his spiritual life above that of his physical because the pardon has made him realise the implications of doing the contrary. Physical labour is replaced with spiritual struggle of an even greater magnitude in order to gain salvation and despite the recognition and expression of the turmoil in Piers that tearing the pardon illustrates, it must continue.
The tearing of the pardon, then, can be interpreted as a reaction that is, in a sense, temporary. While it is true that he rejects the form of a pardon as issued by a priest on God’s behalf, in tearing it Piers realises that he has also rejected the priests as those who apparently provide a link between man and God. He has made himself the subject of God’s judgement alone by abandoning the alternative of the Church’s interpretation of God’s will. The fear in evidence following the destruction of the pardon confirms the magnitude of this act.
He quotes from Psalm twenty-two saying, ‘For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils: for thou art with me’ . Piers’ faith is intact and so the reader is left to analyse his actions in the knowledge that he has rejected the conventional methods of communication with God. Thus the analysis of whether or not tearing the pardon was a bad thing for Piers to do becomes central in the reader’s mind. Piers certainly does not reject God, rather the physical embodiment of a forgiveness which will only impede his realisation that the spiritual is of paramount importance.
The contents of the pardon only serve to affirm that his labour must continue and the reader is clear that it is not a negative approach to take because the mindset that has been created in the previous passus is one where above all labour and struggle is a noble act and a route to good. The critic Rosemary Woolf supports the idea that tearing the pardon was a positive act, saying ‘the document was not a pardon when it was received, but it was a pardon after Piers had torn it’ .
She argues that the tearing of the pardon symbolizes the mercy of the redemption. This view supports the idea that Piers in destroying the pardon surrenders himself to the necessity of spiritual work but in Woolf’s approach it seems that the redemption comes only as a result of this action. Langland makes the nature of humanity consistent in both Piers and the pilgrims he seeks to help and the fact that both express directly or indirectly their spiritual approach in terms of hunger and satisfaction strengthens this link.
However, the tearing of the pardon symbolizes the difference between Piers and the pilgrims because he achieves the correct priority, placing his faith above his physical comfort, and hopes to achieve mercy through a continuation of his labour in this new light. While Woolf suggests that the removal of the pardon as a false mechanism for forgiveness signals the possibility of mercy, it seems clear, in opposition to her approach, that such mercy also requires the ‘preires’ and ‘penaunce’ that Piers chooses to work on and that Langland has primed the reader to accept this through his affirmation of the merits of labour in the preceding passus.
The tearing of the pardon provides a climax to this creation of an attitude to labour that Langland encourages the reader to advocate. However, it is not so climactic as to ultimately bring about a change in this approach either from Piers’ perspective or the readers because they still recognise the need and worth of labour in the spiritual world. The ‘pure tene’ that Piers is described as displaying adds to the drama of the moment because it illustrates the frustration and anguish that he feels both towards the concept of pardons and, more personally, the fact that his struggle and labour must continue.
Indeed, it is fair to say that Piers reaction to the pardon, following its tearing is most central to the argument of the poem because it illustrates that the only resolution to the pardon is for Piers to continue struggling to understand the dichotomy between God’s mercy and the need to earn it. In conclusion, the dreamer’s vision ends with ‘the preest and Perkyn apposeden either oother’. This opposition summarises the division that has been in evidence in the vision as a whole.
Langland in allowing this open-ended conclusion encourages the reader to analyse the events that have unfolded. The tearing of the pardon embodies the oppositions in the poem that the reader and the characters struggle to recognise. His chief success in crafting the vision that contains the tearing of the pardon is to create a mindset in the reader that will ultimately affect the way they interpret the events that follow.
The reader is aware from the pilgrim’s experiences that labour and effort is essential to a healthy existence. Thus, when Piers changes the focus of his labour, it is the struggle for his spiritual health and enlightenment that becomes most central. Langland does not attempt to deny the difficulties that exist in Christian Life and the understanding of it; rather he allows Piers’ humanity and his willingness to continue struggling to remain a consistent force even after the tearing of the pardon has symbolised this difficulty.

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