Piers the Plowman: A Critical Edition of the A-Version

Piers the Plowman: A Critical Edition of the A-Version

Piers the Plowman: A Critical Edition of the A-Version

Piers the Plowman: A Critical Edition of the A-Version

Excerpt

Piers the plowman exists in three distinct versions. The one usually regarded as earliest, called the A-text, contains (in round numbers) 2,500 lines. The second, called the B-text, is 7,200 lines long; it expands the 2,500 lines of the A-text into 3,200 by inserting numerous lines and passages, and then adds 4,000 lines. The third, called the C-text, is practically the same length as B (about 100 lines longer), but omits, transfers, and inserts lines and passages, and, like B, frequently changes the wording. The A-text is divided into a prologue and eleven passus or cantos, the B-text into a prologue and twenty passus, and the C-text, according to Skeat, into twenty-two passus. In the case of the A-version, at least, it is true that the evidence of the MSS indicates that the A-text is in reality two poems: (1) a prologue and eight passus of the Vision concerning Piers the Plowman, and (2) a prologue and two passus of the Life of Do-well, Do-better, and Do-best. But since the continuous numbering of the passus is well established in editorial tradition, and also very convenient for reference purposes, it is retained in this edition, though the correct numbering is given at the beginning of each passus as it occurs in the MSS. The so-called "John But" passus does not belong organically with the A-text. It is found, wholly or in part, in only three MSS after passus 11, and is probably spurious. Certainly, the latter portion of it was written by one John But, who tells us that he "made this end."

Each of the three versions exists in seventeen or more MSS (there are twenty-eight C manuscripts, nine of which are partly A or B).

Until recently the A-text was thought to have been composed . . .

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