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Embodiment and Allegory in 'Piers Plowman'

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis argues that Langland's bodies are of fundamental importance to his
allegory. Langland sees the body as the principle vehicle through which the
words and ideas in his poem can be explored. He understands language as
deeply embodied. Piers Plowman establishes a hermeneutics of flesh in which
concepts are explored through their effects on bodies. The apparent opposition
in Piers's allegory between the material and the abstract is a result of Langland's
belief in the importance of the body and the influence it has on meaning.
Ultimately, the body represents union with God through the incarnation and so
understanding and using its insights is paramount. The first chapter explores
representations of the body and the soul, the incarnation, and the relationship
between personifications and words to establish how the poem theorises the
interaction of flesh with matter. The second chapter argues that clothing and
signs on the body are rejected as ways of displaying meaning by Langland in
favour of depictions of meaning upon the bodies of personifications and other
characters. The third chapter describes the 'capture' of bodies by meaning as a
violent process endemic to allegory that Langland openly explores as a way of
understanding how bodies interact with the conceptual. In the final chapter, the
idea of Langland as a poet concerned with the bodily is examined through
metaphor theory. Piers emerges as a poem that uses its reader's own body as a
basis for its complex ideas, thus establishing a physical link between Langland
and his readers. This thesis finds, in Langland, a poet who believes the body
should be at the centre of textuality and who uses allegory to open up and
explore the intersections between bodies and words.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2015


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