ABSTRACTThis thesis examines the claim that the 14th century experienced a dramatic change in how poverty is understood and addressed in society. This shift can be understood as a long-term social dialectic – one that arcs toward synthesis, but tends toward conflict -- where two contrary points of view are competing for dominance, and are always in a state of tension. The two competing points of view are: 1) poverty as primarily a spiritual and church-mediated challenge and 2) poverty as a social, state-mediated challenge. In the 14th century, several significant demographic changes acted on this conflict: the great plague of 1348; an emerging, soon-to-be-dominant culture of commerce and exchange; the migration of wage earners from rural areas to urban centers; and the tension between early medieval Church-mediated approaches to poverty with an increasingly concentrated population of the poor in cities. Although there are many areas of conflict, the primary opposing points of view can be arbitrarily defined as religious value systems on the one hand and emerging opportunities in the world of finance and capitalism on the other. Both the religious and the secular-economic seek to control the social conversation regarding poverty, and each must change and evolve to accommodate the complex intersection of a constantly changing experience of material conditions on the one hand, and shifting social and religious views on the other. This thesis uses the 14th century allegorical dream narrative Piers Plowman as the focus for an inquiry into then-current views of poverty, how those views had been shaped through history and how they were changing during the latter half of the century.