Piers the Plowman: Literary Relations of the A and B Texts

Piers the Plowman: Literary Relations of the A and B Texts

Piers the Plowman: Literary Relations of the A and B Texts

Piers the Plowman: Literary Relations of the A and B Texts

Excerpt

Piers the Plowman is an English alliterative poem written in the second half of the fourteenth century. It exists in three distinct versions, customarily called the A, B, and C texts. The earliest form of the poem, the A-text, is the shortest of the three, having about 2,500 lines. The B-text is more than 7,000 lines long. The main reason for this greater length is that there is in B a continuation of some 4,000 lines added to the original poem. The C-text, although it is about the same length as B, is distinguished by a rather complex rearrangement of various passages. There are also some omissions, and a certain amount of new material is added in this third and final version.

The present book represents an effort to define the literary relations of the A and B texts of Piers the Plowman. It should perhaps be pointed out that there is a certain ambiguity in my use of the words "literary relations" in the title, for I am really referring to two things at once: first, the actual literary relationship of the two versions of the poem, and, second, the relation of the B-continuation itself to literary tradition. Chapter 1 is concerned exclusively with the A-text, and concentrates primarily on the latter part, the Vita, an understanding of which is especially important in an analysis of the relationship of A and B. Chapter 2 defines the literary traditions with which the reader must be acquainted in order to under-

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