William Langland

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Langland, William

Langland, William, c.1332–c.1400, putative author of Piers Plowman. He was born probably at Ledbury near the Welsh marshes and may have gone to school at Great Malvern Priory. Although he took minor orders he never became a priest. Later in London he apparently eked out his living by singing masses and copying documents. His great work, Piers Plowman, or, more precisely, The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, is an allegorical poem in unrhymed alliterative verse, regarded as the greatest Middle English poem prior to Chaucer. It is both a social satire and a vision of the simple Christian life. The poem consists of three dream visions: (1) in which Holy Church and Lady Meed (representing the temptation of riches) woo the dreamer; (2) in which Piers leads a crowd of penitents in search of St. Truth; and (3) the vision of Do-well (the practice of the virtues), Do-bet (in which Piers becomes the Good Samaritan practicing charity), and Do-best (in which the simple plowman is identified with Jesus himself). The 47 extant manuscripts of the poem fall into three groups: the A-text (2,567 lines, c.1362); the B-text, which greatly expands the third vision (7,242 lines, c.1376–77); the C-text, a revision of B (7,357 lines, between 1393 and 1398). Most scholars now believe that at least the A- and B-texts are the work of William Langland, whose biography has been deduced from passages in the poem. However, some still hold that the poem is the work of two or even five authors. The popularity of the poem is attested to by the large number of surviving manuscripts and by its many imitators. The 19th-century edition of W. W. Skeat (new ed. 1954) is still standard; the best modern versions are those of Donald Attwater (1930) and H. W. Wells (1935).


See studies by E. T. Donaldson (1955; and 1949, repr. 1966), M. W. Bloomfield (1962), S. S. Hussey, ed. (1969), E. D. Kirk (1972), J. M. Bowers (1986), A. V. Schmidt (1987), and M. F. Vaughan (2011).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Langland, William


Born circa 1330 in Cleobury Mortymer, Shropshire; died circa 1400. English poet. A cleric in minor orders, Langland spoke out against the existing social structure on the eve of the peasant uprising of 1381.

Langland’s allegorical narrative poem, Piers Plowman (1362), is probably his only work. It is known in three versions (1370, c. 1377, and c. 1393). The poem was written in traditional alliterative unrhymed verse. Interest in it grew during the Reformation and the years of the English Bourgeois Revolution of the 17th century. J. Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress under the influence of the poem.


The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman in Three Parallel Texts, Together With Richard the Redeless, vols. 1–2. Edited by W. W. Skeat. London, 1924.
In Russian translation:
Videnie Uil’iama o Petre Pakhare. Introduction by D. M. Petrushevskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.


Alekseev, M. P. Iz istorii angliiskoi literatury. Moscow, 1960. (See name index.)
Donaldson, E. T. Piers the Plowman: The C-text and Its Poet. New Haven, 1949.
Fowler, D. C. Piers the Plowman: Literary Relations of the A and B Texts. Seattle, 1961.
Robertson D. W., and B. F. Huppe. Piers Plowman and Scriptural Tradition. New York, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Crowley is his preface to Piers Ploughman, printed in 1550.
In 1362 plums figure in William Langland's Piers Ploughman. In 1548 William Turner includes them in his Names of Herbes, while in 1629 a healthy 61 varieties are recorded growing across the UK.
The poem of Piers Ploughman was also the culmination of an independent literary tradition of the West Midlands, a tradition that turned its back on the sophisticated courtly verse of Chaucer and his contemporaries.