Quarrels of Sir Conscience: Langland’s critique of knighthood in the visio of Piers Plowman AND “And harped at his Owhen Wille”: developing bardic kingship in the lay of Sir Orfeo.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Eric M. Sorenson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Denise Baker

Abstract: Piers Plowman was written in its three forms roughly between 1365 and 1388, in the midest of the Hundred Years' War. This war spanning 1337 through 1453 saw English knights in France performing acts of violence, theft, pillaging, and ransom which directly opposed the societal understanding of chivalric figures. There existed a disconnect between what society, as displayed through the knightly depictions in literature at the time, perceived as knightly behavior and what was occurring overseas in France, due in part to a cultivation of chivalric identity spurred by King Edward III. In Piers Plowman, William Langland depicts knights which do not match the traditional literary knightly depictions, rather Langland deconstructs what it means to be a chivalric literary knightly figure in order to criticize the contemporary knight in feudal society. The deconstructed depictions of knights seen in Sir Conscience and the nameless knight of the field allow Langland to highlight contemporary societal problems with knights and to facilitate the need for a new model of knightly depiction. The behavior of knights in the Hundred Years' War as purely mercenary becomes a model for Langland to illustrate the problems of the failin feudal system in late fourteenth century England due to the rising proto-capitalist influence caused by the mercantile class. Langland's knights in Piers Plowman serve as a model for the problematic impact proto-capitalism has on feudal society and present a display to maintain an atavistic connection to feudal society through the introduction of the Christ-knight figure at the conclusion of the narrative. SORENSON, ERIC M., M.A. "And Harped at His Owhen Wille": Developing Bardic Kingship in the Lay of Sir Orfeo. (2015) Directed by Dr. Amy Vines. 44 pp. The Breton lay of Sir Orfeo is a text which explores the relationship between space and authority and how these two combine to influence a king's development. Through the utilization of the medieval spaces of the courtly society and the wilderness the lay provides instances of medieval spaces which provide different opportunities for the development of kingly chivalric authority. The text focuses around the methods a kingdom is ruled, not the question of who has the right to rule. My work utilizes the depictions of these different spaces to orchestrate the texts development of a new kind of kingship to parallel the already established militant kingship displayed in most medieval romance narratives. Through Orfeo's initial loss of his wife and the subsequent undermining of his kingly authority the king is shown to be an ineffective militant king and a need for transition is developed. By removing himself from the courtly setting and retreating into the wilderness, Orfeo is able to transition his supernatural harping ability from a tool of pure entertainment into a tool for attaining kingly authority. The necessity of the wilderness as a space for this transition is stressed because of the possibilities of isolation and individual agency which the medieval wilderness space provides. Orfeo's transition from the wilderness into the otherworldly setting of the fairy kingdom allows for the opportunity for application of bardic authority in a courtly space outside of Orfeo's own court, the success of which allows for the return of Heurodis to Orfeo's kingdom and the final solidification of Orfeo as a successful bardic king.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Bardic kingship, Feudalism, Knighthood, Piers Plowman, Sir Orfeo, Wilderness
Langland, William, $d 1330?-1400? $t Piers Plowman
English literature $y Middle English, 1100-1500 $x History and criticism
Orpheus $c (Greek mythological character)
War in literature
Knights and knighthood in literature
Kings and rulers in literature

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