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Medieval Poetics and Social PracticeResponding to the Work of Penn R. Szittya$
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Seeta Chaganti

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823243242

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823243242.001.0001

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Dowel, the Proverbial, and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia

Dowel, the Proverbial, and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia

(p.143) Dowel, the Proverbial, and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia
Medieval Poetics and Social Practice

Anne Middleton

Fordham University Press

This essay begins with Piers Plowman's use of the adage “Do well and have well,” a phrase that elegantly interweaves poetics and social practice. It prescribes practice within a form that reveals the relationship of Langland's poetics to other figural and didactic realms. In “Dowel, the Proverbial and the Vernacular: Some Versions of Pastoralia,” Anne Middleton argues that by looking at other occurrences of the phrase “do well and have well,” we discern how the register of the proverbial and popular provides Langland with a way to think about pastoral didacticism in relation to his own work. Middleton surveys different occurrences of this phrase, focusing, for instance, on its appearance in the Similitudinarium of William de Montibus (d. 1213). This work provided an important source for the summae confessorum that influenced Piers Plowman. Rather than simply pinpointing in William's text another possible origin for a Langlandian formulation, however, Middleton suggests instead that we read such texts as “illuminating commentary avant la lettre on the poet's pivotal deployment” of the “Dowel” dictum. Investigating the implications of the proverbial, Middleton shows how “ordinary and extraordinary language declare their interdependence in the ‘arts’ of both pastors and poets.”

Keywords:   William Langland, Piers Plowman, Proverb, Poetics, Pastoral, Dowel, medieval

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