‘But Who Will Bell the Cat?’: Deschamps, Brinton, Langland, and the Hundred Years’ War
Yearbook of Langland Studies
This essay investigates the mutual use of the ‘belling the cat’ fable in Langland’s Prologue to Piers Plowman, in Thomas Brinton’s sermon from 1376, and in a cluster of poems about the Hundred Years War by Langland’s French contemporary, Eustache Deschamps. Although the fable was popular in their day, only these three authors offer it a specifically topical application, and each, the essay argues, uses it to critique administrative dysfunction and excessive taxation during the Hundred Years War. By teasing out this Anglo-French political context, the essay offers a new reading of Langland’s mouse’s exhortation of inaction before the Rodent Parliament as pointedly reflective of debates surrounding the war in the Good Parliament of 1376. It thus argues for Langland’s engagement with international, rather than only domestic, politics and for his participation in broader, cross-Channel literary currents, rather than purely insular ones.