‘In that folie I raigned …’: Reason, Justice and the King in Piers Plowman and King Lear
Freed, Eugenie R.
The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
In 1550, Robert Crowley edited the first printed edition of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, under the title The Vision of Pierce Plowman, and began to offer copies for sale from his bookshop at the Ely Rents in Holborn, in London. Until that year, Langland’s work had been on the list of books banned by Parliament. Presumably, this was because of its anticlericalism, and because the Piers Plowman tradition was identified with the Wycliffite movement, whose writings had been banned under censorship regulations culminating in the ‘Act of Six Articles’ of 1539. Divided though the populace was on religious issues at this time, there was a groundswell of support for reforms initiated during the reign of Henry VIII – who certainly ‘…could not have effected his personal purpose if there had been a stiff resistance on the part of the English people to a rupture with Rome’ (Hutchinson 1). It stimulated enough interest in Piers Plowman, which was then perceived as a prophecy of the English Reformation, to enable Crowley in that same year, 1550, to commission from Richard Grafton, the Protestant printer who had printed the first edition, two further impressions of this epic work of the late fourteenth century which had never ceased to rouse controversy (King 345).
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