From Subject to Earthly Matter: The Plowman’s Argument and Popular Discourse in Gentleness and Nobility

  • Rachel Greenberg Canisius College
Keywords: Heywood, Rastell, Gentleness, Nobility, Plowman, drama, Thomas More,


This essay examines the 1525 interlude, Gentleness and Nobility, credited to John Heywood and John Rastell, which features a debate among a Plowman, a Knight, and a Merchant on the origins and justice of social hierarchy. The essay locates the Plowman’s role in relation to the tradition of subversive speech on the early modern stage as voiced by Elizabethan stage clowns, as well as to a rich oral tradition among the lower classes that sought to combat agrarian capitalism and social inequality in Tudor England. Using reasoned argument and material evidence, the Plowman exposes the Knight and the Merchant’s claims to gentility as an empty rhetorical show while making a powerful case for his own ‘nobility’.