Piers Plowman Performance at St Edmund Hall

The Fair Field of Folk. Piers Plowman: A Potted Adaptation of the B Text
When: 11 February 2023, to be repeated partially during the Medieval Mystery Cycle 22 April 2023
Where: St Edmund Hall, Queen’s Lane, OX1 4AR Oxford

Director: Eloise Peniston

Trailer filmed and edited by Natascha Domeisen, music by Alexander Nakarada

Welcome to our mervelous sweven, the Middle English prose B text of Piers Plowman dramatized and brought to stage by an eclectic mix of English students, medievalists, business students, historians, even a mathematician! Starring

  • 😴 Sòlas McDonald as Will the Dreamer
  • 😜 Jonathan Honnor as Piers Plowman/False Tongue
  • ⛪ Clare-Rose McIntyre as Holy Church
  • ✝️ Chantale Davies as Theology/Priest
  • 🤔 Rei Tracks as Conscience
  • 🌾 Alexane Ducheune as Mede’s Handmaid
  • 👑 Kate Harkness as The King
  • 💃 Eloise Peniston as Envy/Lady Mede
  • 💰 Sabrina Coghlan-Jasiewicz as Simony/Pride
  • 😡 Sonny Pickering as Wrath
  • 👩‍⚖️ Zelda Cahill-Patten as Civil Law/Covetousness

With original music by Anna Cowan (harp) and Rachael Seculer-Faber; ceremonial trumpet: Henrike Lähnemann, special advice: Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. Supported by Oxford Medieval Studies and St Edmund Hall 

Video filmed and edited by Natascha Domeisen, cover image by Duncan Taylor

Plot summary

The play follows a man named Will, who falls asleep beside a stream on a May morning in Malvern Hills with a succession of dreams, beginning with a tower on a hill, a dungeon, and a fair field of folk. On his quest for Truth, Will meets a host of allegorical personifications, wandering through the marriage and later trial of Lady Mede, the confession of the Seven Sins, the Crucifixion, and the Harrowing of Hell. In the midst of all, Piers Plowman emerges, taking only momentary repose from his plough to guide Will towards Truth and, rather scandalously, chastise members of the clergy.


  1. Introduction from Holy Churche and Mede
    Holy Churche and Mede will explain what to expect from our play.
  2. Prologue
    The bugle breaks through the air, and the dulcet tones of our bard and piper will lead you to a May Morning on Malvern Hills
  3. Holy Churche and Will
    Will searches for Truth, imploring guidance of Holy Churche. Truth is, of course, that one must Do Well, Do Better, and Do Best. 
  4. Lady Mede
    Mede, the incarnation of financial reward, bribery, corruption, arrives. 
  5. Marriage of Mede
    False and Mede attempt to marry but the King requests their presence at the court, as False is not deemed a suitable husband for the noble lady. 
  6. Trial of Mede
    Mede pleads her case, explaining the importance of ‘mede’ or reward in the world at large.
  7. Seven Deadly Sins
    Pride, Lechery, Envy, Wrath, Covetousness, Gluttony, and Sloth come and confess their sins.
  8. Piers Plowman
    Piers Plowman arrives and agrees to show the field of folk where Truth is, if they help him plough his half acre.
  9. Tearing of the Pardon
    Truth sends a pardon for Piers, however it is discovered not to be a real pardon at all. Piers tears it in two and interprets the Latin better than a priest ever could. 


Piers Plowman is an allegorical text that exists in different versions. The A text is the incomplete earliest version, the B text is the most broadly translated and edited, while also being highly scandalous, and the C text is highly censored, notably failing to mention the Peasants Revolt and the Tearing of the Pardon, which our performance presents. 

The B text can be approximately dated to 1388, and has quite the volatile position in history, especially in relation to the peasant’s revolt and heresy. While locked inside Maidstone Castle, John Ball penned his radical Letter to Essex Men, citing Piers Plowman and Robin Hood as comrades in the fight. In short, Piers Plowman is a working class hero, a Billy Bragg if you will, representing the right of common man. The concept of class struggle is deeply entrenched into the text, carrying the relics of the Domesday Book serfdom, to the climbing taxes in the midst of the 100 years war, the dwindling population as the Black Death roamed the country. All of these tensions boiled over on the 30th of May, 1381, as John Bampton arrived in Essex to collect unpaid poll taxes. In consideration of 1990 Poll Tax riots, the UK Miners’ Strikes in 1984, and the recently unveiled Strike Laws, clearly class struggle repeats itself. With a ploughman at the helm, the voice of the working people is vital in the text. With all that in mind, sit back, relax, and enjoy the chaos.  God spede þe plouȝ!

Director’s Story

Eloise writes: I first discovered Piers Plowman at a bus stop. I was characteristically lost with a dead phone and only a charity shop book to keep me company. While no one murmured ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness’, at me, I was acutely aware of being in the presence of the literary as I thumbed through the wind-swept pages. I was intensely confused, which, at the age of fifteen, I supposed was the hidden intention of all literature. With the charmed hand of A. V. C. Schmidt to guide me, I followed Will fallling asleep. I remember after being “found” an hour later how I, rather breathlessly, recounted the events of the B text to my mother as she, mid-flap, chastised me about reckless spontaneity and the need for charged phones.

At that bus stop, I knew that, by the fortuity of an Oxfam find, I had discovered something wonderful, but I had no idea that seven years later, I would be scavenging liripipes and slit-mittens in an attempt to bring this dream-vision to life. Now, I often take that humble copy with me to Malvern Hills, and it is positively crammed with pressed, may-morning flowers. However, little did I know then how deeply entrenched this text was in the public sphere or about the literary and literal rebellions that have emerged beneath the mouldboard.

From the pen of a man who described Piers Plowman as “not worth reading”, Gerard Manley Hopkins perfectly captured the flesh-good of the text:

And features, in flesh, what deed he each must do –
His sinew-service where do.

He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist
In him, all quail to the wallowing o’ the plough: ‘s cheek crimsons; curls
Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced –
See his wind – lilylocks – laced;
Churlsgrace, too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls
Them – broad in bluff hide his frowning feet lashed! raced
With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls –
With-a-fountain’s shining-shot furls.
Harry Ploughman
G. M. Hopkins

This particular poem encapsulates the essence of Piers Plowman: pure inscape, or as Stephen Medcalf calls it, an “extraordinary combination of roughness and a delicate magic.” It is incredibly difficult to describe what happens in Piers Plowman but “churlsgrace” is certainly the perfect descriptor for the essence of the text. A mere ploughman knows the way to Truth and is gracious enough to guide the reader, in return for help in plowing and sowing a half-acre.

Piers Plowman is ultimately a text that encourages mental labour, in a field, at a bus stop, or even in the gardens of St Edmund Hall…

We invite you to toil with us at Teddy Hall. From a tower on toft, a trumpet shall hail the dream, before the gentle plucking of a harp will guide you to sleep. Come and set forth on a dream-pilgrimage, exploring political satire, social upheaval, and spiritual crisis.
We hope to see you soon in the fair field. God spede þe plouȝ!

Piers Plowman poster

Interdisciplinary Conference ‘Trust in the Premodern World’: An Overview

Written by Annabel Hancock (St John’s College, Oxford) 
Lead Organiser 


After over a year of preparation, the conference took place on 13-14th January 2023 in the Oxford History Faculty, and it was a great success! We were thrilled to welcome five eminent keynote speakers as well as 26 speakers and 20 attendees. Attendance was truly international with speakers from the US, Taiwan, Israel, Australia, The Netherlands, and Spain, to name a few places. There were also participants from a range of career stages with a large number of postgraduate students and ECRs speaking alongside renowned professors.  

The call for papers generated a much greater response than expected, from researchers at a variety of career stages and disciplines. While it led to greater organisational challenges, this led to the decision to run parallel sessions, allowing the acceptance of a greater number of papers and wider conversations. This meant we had panels which focused on trust as an emotion and experience, on trust and its relationship to power, to professions, in trade, credit, and debt relationships, and in spaces and systems.  

The keynote speakers acted perfectly to direct the focus of the conference and encourage wide-ranging discussions. Dr Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (University of Amsterdam) started us off perfectly, thinking about generalised trust, encouraging us to think about how communities engage with trust in the common good in the medieval city. Professor Teresa Morgan (Yale Divinity School) then encouraged us to think about the ways in which language and meaning develops, showing how ideas of trust in Early Christian faith developed to relate to belief, redefining one’s relationship to God. Dr Nicholas Baker (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) then ended the first day perfectly. He showed us that the ways in which merchants thought about time in sixteenth century Italy was deeply complex, looking at the ways in which language related to trust and time expressed anxieties as well as positive hopes. Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo (University of Lincoln) started day two with a look at trust as an emotion, specifically encouraging us to think about the ways in which women took part in the construction of trusted spaces in diplomacy in thirteenth-century Iberia. Our final keynote speaker, Professor Sheilagh Ogilvie (All Souls College, Oxford) delivered a paper encouraging us to think about the voices of premodern people and the ways theories of social capital/networks can hide the darker side of trust communities. She highlighted the ways in which economic approaches to trust can help us to look deeper into the ways in which communities functioned and encouraged us that as historians we have much to add to this conversation. 

Papers and keynote talks led to a great number of discussions and engagement with trust across a range of times and places. Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of many conversations was the realisation that though the 54 total participants all worked on varied times and places across the globe, and on various forms of trust, we all had knowledge and ideas that could be related it, and questions that could be the start of new ways of thinking.  

There is still much to think about and I know that all participants will be processing the discussions we had for a long time to come. Perhaps one of the main take aways at this early stage is the great power that comes with thinking about trust in the past. Through this focus, we can learn more about the economic, social, and cultural lives of people in premodern Europe, and consider the ways in which rationality and emotions are negotiated. 

The organising committee was thrilled to receive much positive feedback, including on social media, from attendees about the event and a great desire for conversations started at the event to continue. This will be an ongoing global network. 

This event would not have been possible without a great amount of support and encouragement from friends, colleagues, various members of the History Faculty admin team, and our generous sponsors. 

Oxford Medieval Visual Culture Seminar

Where: St Catherine’s College, Arumugam Building
When: Thursdays 5.15 p.m.

Convenors: Elena Lichmanova (elena.lichmanova@merton.ox.ac.uk) and Gervase Rosser

The Oxford Medieval Visual Culture Seminar series is exploring visual aspects of medieval knowledge: from anatomy to alchemy, from geometry to the concepts of time and space. We hope that the programme may appeal to audiences beyond those studying the medieval period and art history, so please do share it with anyone who might be interested. 

Week 2, 26 January
Sarah Griffin Lambeth Palace Library, London
From Hours to Ages: Time in the Large-scale Diagrams of Opicinus de Canistris (1296-
Anya Burgon Trinity Hall, Cambridge
In a Punctum: Miniature Worlds in Late Medieval Art and Literature

Week 4, 9 February
Lauren Rozenberg University College London
In the Flat Round: Brain Diagrams in Late Medieval Manuscripts
Sergei Zotov University of Warwick
Christian Motifs in Fifteenth-Century Alchemical Iconography

Week 6, 23 February
Jack Hartnell University of East Anglia
Visualising Wombs and Obstetrical Fantasies in Late Medieval Germany

Week 8, 9 March
Mary Carruthers New York University, All Souls College, Oxford
Envisioning Thinking: Geometry and Meditation in the Twelfth Century

We very much look forward to seeing you in the Hilary Term!

Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Music

All Souls College, Oxford

Hilary Term, 2023
Led by Dr Margaret Bent (Convenor, All Souls College, Oxford) and Matthew Thomson (University College Dublin)

The seminars are all held via Zoom on Thursdays at 5 p.m. GMT. If you are planning to attend a seminar this term, please register using this form. For each seminar, those who have registered will receive an email with the Zoom invitation and any further materials a couple of days before the seminar. If you have questions, please just send an email to matthew.thomson@ucd.ie.

Seminar programme

Thursday 26 January, 5pm GMT

Julia Craig-McFeely (DIAMM, University of Oxford)

The Sadler Sets of Partbooks and Tudor Music Copying

Discussants: Owen Rees (University of Oxford) and Magnus Williamson (University of Newcastle)

The digital recovery of the Sadler Partbooks has revealed considerably more than simply the notes written on the pages. Surprisingly more in fact. It has led to a re-evaluation of pretty much everything we thought we knew about the books and their inception, and indeed the culture of music copying in England in the mid- to late-16th century. This paper examines the question of who was responsible for copying Bodleian Library Mus. e. 1–5. Some tempting speculations are explored, and some new paradigms proposed.

Thursday 16 February, 5pm GMT

Martin Kirnbauer and the project team Vicentino21: Anne Smith, David Gallagher, Luigi Collarile and Johannes Keller (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis / FHNW)

Soav’ e dolce – Nicola Vicentino’s Intervallic Vision

The musical ideas and visions that Vicentino sets out in his writings L’antica musica ridotta alla moderna prattica (Rome 1555) and the Manifesto for his arciorgano can only be concretely traced on the basis of a few, mostly fragmentary, surviving compositions. However, the research carried out within the framework of the SNSF-funded research project “Vicentino21” (https://www.fhnw.ch/plattformen/vicentino21/), with the aim of creating a digital edition of Vicentino’s treatise, now provides concrete findings. Using the example of the madrigal Soav’ e dolce ardore (III:51, fol. 67), questions concerning Vicentino’s musical visions and the edition will be discussed.

Thursday 9 March, 5pm GMT

Emily Zazulia (University of California at Berkeley)

The Fifteenth-Century Song Mass: Some Challenges

Discussants: Fabrice Fitch (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and Sean Gallagher (New England Conservatory)

Love songs and the Catholic Mass do not make easy bedfellows. The earthly, amorous, even carnal feelings explored in fifteenth-century chansons seem at odds with the solemnity of Christian observance’s most central rite. Recent scholarship has attempted to bridge this divide, showing how some of these genre-crossing pieces conflate the earthly lady with the Virgin Mary, thereby effacing the divide between sacred and secular. But a substantial body of song masses survives whose source material is decidedly not amenable to this type of interpretation—masses based on songs that are less “My gracious lady is without peer” and more “Hey miller girl, come grind my grain”—or, as we shall see, worse. This paper turns an eye toward these misfit masses, surveying the corpus for a sense of what there is—the Whos, Whats, Wheres, and Whens—as a first step toward the Hows and Whys of these puzzling pieces. One particularly tricky example, the mass variously referred to as Je ne demande and Elle est bien malade, suggests that it may be time to replace prevailing sacred–secular interpretative models with a new approach.

E  A  Lowe Lectures in Palaeography 2023: Professor Niels Gaul 

Manuscripts of Character: Codex, Ethos, and Authority in Byzantium and Beyond

Professor Niels Gaul will deliver the E A Lowe Lectures at 5pm on the following days in the MBI Al Jaber Auditorium, Corpus Christi College. Niels Gaul is A G Leventis Professor of Byzantine Studies and Director of the Centre for Late Antique, Islamic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Edinburgh; from 2005 to 2007 he held the inaugural Dilts-Lyell Research Fellowship in Greek Palaeography at Lincoln College and in the Faculty of Classics.  His research interests include the socio-historical dynamics of schools, learning, and the classical tradition in Byzantium; since 2017 he has been co-directing an ERC-funded comparative project on classicising learning in the Byzantine and middle-period Chinese imperial systems.

Tuesday 28 February  –  “Codex” – explores the phenomenon of Byzantine literati curating their own writings in codex format and possible ancient and patristic models; with glances at similar practices in other medieval manuscript cultures

Thursday 2 March – “Ethos” – examines the ways in which such codices were thought to display the author’s character, and what the concept entailed in this context

Tuesday 7 March –  “Authority” – relates expressions of authorial ethos to matters of mise-en-page, with particular attention to marginal spaces

All welcome!

Corpus Christi College MS 30 (fol. 114r), from the Commentary on the Gospels by Theophylact of Ohrid (late 12th century), a significant Byzantine biblical scholar (ca. 1050/60 – ca. 1108).

Header image: Gospel Lectionary with Marginal Illuminations, second half of 11th century, Dumbarton Oaks MS 1, BZ.1939.12 f.4v (See the manuscript online via Dumbarton Oaks on the Web)

CfP: Postgraduate Conference 2023 (University of Bristol): Identities, Communities and ‘Imagined Communities’

When: 14-15 April 2023

Abstracts and enquiries: cms-conference-enquiries@bristol.ac.uk
Deadline: 10 February 2023

After the success of the 2022 ‘Transitions’ Conference, we invite you to the next instalment of the longest-standing medievalist PGR conference series. This year’s theme of Identities, Communities, and ‘Imagined Communities’ marks the 40-year anniversary of the publication of Benedict Anderson’s book on national identity. Observing all the uses medievalists have made of his theories in subsequent years, the conference celebrates the interdisciplinary currents that have benefitted academia in recent decades – Anderson, after all, did not initially believe his theories were suitable for the medieval world. We welcome respondents and delegates to reflect on how we use concepts of identity and community more broadly across medieval history. Society’s interest in its identities is arguably more topical today than it was in 1983 when Imagined Communities was first published. How did medieval communities see and perform their identities, how did this change over time, and why? What role did identities play – be they political, linguistic, or religious – in the consolidation of some communities and the subjugation of others?

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:
• National Identities
• Religious Identities
• Sexuality and Gender Identities
• Ethnoreligious Communities
• Marcher Identities
• Urban Communities
• County Communities
• Frontiers, Conquest, and Expansion
• Law and Custom
• Migration and Xenophobia
• Ethnic Origins and Contemporary Myths
• Art and Architecture
• Seals and Heraldry
• Patronage and Memory
• Sovereignty
• Local Autonomy
• Archaeology
• Nationalism
• Concepts in History-writing

We welcome abstracts from postgraduates and early-career researchers, exploring all the aspects and
approaches to concepts of identity and communities, in all relevant disciplines pertaining to the medieval
period, broadly construed c.500-c.1500. Abstracts are 300 words for 20-minute papers. This year’s
conference will be a hybrid event online and on the campus of the University of Bristol.

CfP: Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference 2023

The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference committee are very excited to announce that the theme for the 2023 conference will be: ‘Names and Naming’

The conference will be held in person (with limited measures for online papers) at Ertegun House, Oxford, on the 20th and 21st of April, 2023. We are thrilled to announce this call for papers relating to all aspects of the broad topic of ‘names and naming’ in the medieval world. We are welcoming papers in any discipline, be it literary; historical; archaeological; linguistic; interdisciplinary; or anything else. There are no limitations on geographical region or time period, as long as the topic falls within the medieval period.

Examples of areas of interest may include but are not limited to:

♦ Naming and shaming
♦ Authorship; pseudonyms
♦ Classifications
♦ Etymology
♦ Place names
♦ Historiographical groups
♦ Ethnonyms
♦ Insults
♦ Nicknames
♦ Seals, identity
♦ Translation
♦ Trades
♦ Lineage
♦ Genres
♦ Graffiti; marginalia
♦ Saints’ names; cults

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: Papers should be a maximum of 20 minutes. We intend to provide bursaries to help with travel costs, and we are welcoming applications from graduate students at any university.

Please email abstracts of 250 words to oxgradconf@gmail.com by 15th January, 2023.

The Latin Works of Piccolomini (PP Pius II): A Colloquium

When: Thursday 23 and Friday 24 March 2023

Where: Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies, Faculty of Classics, 66, St. Giles’ Oxford OX1 3LU

This colloquium is the first in a collaboration on medieval and early modern Latin between the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford and the Abteilung für Griechische und Lateinische Philologie at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn. There will be eleven papers on the Latin works of the fifteenth-century humanist, Enea Silvio Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II). The draft timetable is available here.

The colloquium begins on Thursday afternoon and runs until Friday evening. The registration fee of £10:- contributes toward the subsidised cost of refreshments (incl. lunch on the full day). To register, please follow this link to the University Stores: https://www.oxforduniversitystores.co.uk/product-catalogue/classics/classics-events/the-latin-works-of-piccolomini-pp-pius-ii-a-colloquium

Please direct any queries to Dr Tristan Franklinos tristan.franklinos@classics.ox.ac.uk 

‘The iconography of the Mass of St Gregory in England’: Prof. Julian Luxford at Oxford Medieval Visual Culture Seminar

When: Thursday 1 December at 5 pm 

Where: St Catherine’s college, Bernard Sunley Building Room D (It is better to ask the St Catherine’s lodge porters for directions because this room is at the other end of the college!)

Julian Luxford, Professor at the School of Art History, University of St Andrews, will present on The iconography of the Mass of St Gregory in England .

The talk will be followed by drinks reception and a communal dinner at Gino’s (at attendee’s own expense). Everyone is welcome!

With any questions, please write to Elena Lichmanova elena.lichmanova@merton.ox.ac.uk

Digital Humanities and Sensory Heritage (DHSH): Jean-Philippe Échard (Paris)

Materiality-driven digital approaches to music museum artefacts: from spectro-imaging and CT scans, to photogrammetry

When: Thursday 1 December 2022, 4.30pm

Where: Linbury Room, Worcester College, Oxford

Speaker: Jean-Philippe Échard (Paris)

In the last three decades, the digitalisation of techniques for the analysis of cultural heritage artefacts has profoundly modified the ways of working with and interpreting data. Through a series of examples of projects conducted on the collection of historical musical instruments at the Musée de la Musique (Cité de la Musique – Philharmonie de Paris, Paris France), this talk will explore this major change, and highlight the value of these new approaches today. The characterisation of pigments in paintings decorating 17th-c. Flemish harpsichords sheds light on the painting techniques used and on the smalt trade. X-ray spectro-imaging proves to be key for identifying royal coats of arms, in painted emblems on 16th-century violins made by Andrea Amati, and to identify parchments from a single 14th-c. book of hours that were found in three instruments by Antonio Stradivari. CT-scans and photogrammetry techniques produce 3D digital models of musical instruments, used to better understand their material history or their vibrational behaviour, or to 3D-print instruments. The potentials of such techniques to improve the readability of these material historical sources can be hugely valuable stimulating for historians.

Jean-Philippe Échard is Curator of Stringed Instruments at the Musée de la Musique in Paris (Cité de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris, France) since 2014. He trained as a chemist, with a degree from the École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie, Paris (1998) and a doctorate from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (2010) on 16th-18th-c. varnishing techniques in instrument-making. He conducted research as conservation scientist on musical instruments in the laboratory of the Musée de la Musique (1999-2004 ; 2006-2013) and on easel paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA (2004-2005). He is the author of two books Le violon Sarasate, stradivarius des virtuoses (2018), and Stradivarius et la lutherie de Crémone (2022) as well as numerous papers and articles.

Find out more about the Digital Humanities and Sensory Heritage Network here.