Imagining The Reader: Vernacular Representation and Specialized Vocabulary in Medieval English Literature
Description: William Langland's The Vision of Piers Plowman was probably the first medieval English poem to achieve a national audience because Langland chose to write in the vernacular and he used the specialized vocabularies of his readership to open the poem to them. During the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, writers began using the vernacular in an attempt to allow all English people access to their texts. They did so consciously, indicating their intent in prologues and envois when they formally address readers. Some writers, like Langland and the author of Mankind, actually use representatives of the rural classes as primary characters who exhibit the beliefs and lives of the rural population. Anne Middleton's distinction between public-the readership an author imagined-and audience-the readership a work achieved-allows modern critics to discuss both public and audience and try to determine how the two differed. While the public is always only a presumption, the language in which an author writes and the cultural events depicted by the literature can provide a more plausible estimate of the public. The vernacular allowed authors like Gower, Chaucer, the author of Mankind, and Langland to use the specialized vocabularies of the legal and rural communities to discuss societal problems. They also use representatives of the communities to further open the texts to a vernacular public. These open texts provide some representation for the rural and common people's ideas about the other classes to be heard. Langland in particular uses the specialized vocabularies and representative characters to establish both the faults of all English people and a common guide they can follow to seek moral lives through Truth. His rural character, Piers the Plowman, allows rural readers to identify with the messages in the text while showing upper class and educated readers that they too can emulate a rural ...
Date: August 2000
Creator: Walther, James T.