The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman - Vol. 2

The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman - Vol. 2

The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman - Vol. 2

The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman - Vol. 2


The first full commentary on Piers Plowman since the late nineteenth century, the Penn Commentary places the allegorical dream-vision of Piers Plowman within the literary, historical, social, and intellectual contexts of late medieval England, and within the long history of critical interpretation of the poem, assessing past scholarship while offering original materials and insights throughout. The authors' line-by-line, section by section, and passus by passus commentary on all three versions of the poem and on the stages of its multiple revisions reveals new aspects of the work's meaning while assessing and summarizing a complex and often divisive scholarly tradition. The volumes offer an up-to-date, original, and open-ended guide to a poem whose engagement with its social world is unrivaled in medieval English literature, and whose literary, religious, and intellectual accomplishments are uniquely powerful.

The Penn Commentary is designed to be equally useful to readers of the A, B, or C texts of the poem. It is geared to readers eager to have detailed experience of Piers Plowman and other medieval literature, possessing some basic knowledge of Middle English language and literature, and interested in pondering further the particularly difficult relationships to both that this poem possesses. Others, with interest in poetry of all periods, will find the extended and detailed commentary useful precisely because it does not seek to avoid the poem's challenges but seeks instead to provoke thought about its intricacy and poetic achievements.

Volume 2, by Ralph Hanna, deliberately addresses the question of the poem's perceived "difficulty," by indicating the legitimate areas of unresolved dilemmas, while offering often original explanations of a variety of textual loci. Perhaps more important, his commentary indicates what has not always appeared clear in past approaches--that the poem only "means" in its totality and within some critical framework, and that its annotation needs always to be guided by a sense of Langland's developing arguments.


This is the third volume to appear of a projected five-volume collaborative project. It has been preceded by book-length guides to the opening and conclusion of Langland’s poem (Galloway 2006 and Barney 2006, respectively). the remaining volumes, by Anne Middleton and Traugott Lawler, remain actively “in progress.”

The substantial volumes already published present themselves in a rather “stand alone” mien. Like most published writings—yet with a strange inappropriateness, given that their subject is the ceaselessly changing Piers Plowman— they strive to obscure, as irrelevant to the product, an underlying history of discussion and changes of course. As a result, exactly how the authors’ work (and the work of subsequently published collaborators, both instant and projected) is to be construed remains slightly opaque (and has provoked some querulousness among reviewers).

The following pages, a personal statement, seek to clarify the origins of our mutual project, some of the thinking that underpins it, and the goals that animate this particular contribution. It builds upon statements made long ago in public fora as to what it was we thought we were about (e.g., Middleton 1990; Hanna 1994). This preface thus substitutes for what we might, and probably should, have made clear to all our readers at the outset.

In its inception, the project was the brainchild of Steve Barney. He initially had the idea of providing a modern replacement for the notes in Skeat’s edition of the poem, and he sought out and convinced all of us, as well as Murray Krieger, then director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, Irvine, of the worthiness of this pursuit. the self-styled “Gang of Five” (originally including John A. Alford, subsequently to be replaced by Galloway, who was with us from the beginning, initially as a graduate assistant) assembled at uchri, Irvine, in the new year, January 1990. (Thus, this was very much a uc project, four of the team at the time we started being uc employees.) Our work began as but one focus amid a more profuse uchri collaborative project, a study of “Annotation” and its history (cf. Barney 1991, papers presented at a conference held to mark the end of this endeavor).

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.