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Piers Plowman and Its Manuscript Tradition

Piers Plowman and Its Manuscript Tradition

By Sarah Joy Wood



The fifty-plus surviving manuscripts of William Langland's Piers Plowman cast important light on the early public life of this central Middle English work, but they have been relatively neglected by scholarship. This first full study of the subject examines the textual variants, marginal rubrics and companion texts in the manuscripts. It illuminates a reception quite distinct from the reformist poems written by Langland's imitators in "the Piers Plowman tradition". It reveals how the earliest scribes devised various traditional forms of presentation that proved remarkably durable in the poem's subsequent reception, even surviving into the age of print. Exploring Piers Plowman's appearances in the manuscripts, paired unexpectedly with such genres as romance, hagiography and travel literature, the book demonstrates the surprisingly affective responses of medieval readers to the represented lives of the narrator Will and the title figure Piers the Plowman. At the same time, it shows that the evidence for individual scribal agendas in particular copies is more ambiguous than often assumed, with each book reflecting the activities of an unknown number of hands and an uncertain mixture of design and accident. By drawing on evidence from textual scholarship as well as codicological and literary approaches, the author offers fresh insight into Piers Plowman's place in literary history and proposes new ways of understanding the late medieval manuscript as a multi-layered, collaborative product. Sarah Wood is Associate Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Warwick

ISBN: 9781914049071


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