Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Manuscripts of 'Piers Plowman'

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Manuscripts of 'Piers Plowman'

Article excerpt

C. David Benson and Lynne S. Blanchfield, The Manuscripts of 'Piers Plowman' (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997). x + 339 PP. ISBN o-859gi-5oi-8. ,C6o.oo.

This handsome volume deals with both ordinatio (the scribal layout of the work) and annotatio, the various additions made by scribes and readers which, the authors believe, furnish our main direct knowledge of the poem's ,reception'. A detailed table records how these categories overlap and interlock, for as well as verbal and symbolic annotation in our sense, Benson and Blanchfield understand annotatio as paragraphing and emphasizing by rubrication or underlining, scribal interventions that stand within the textformat and not on its margins. What unites the two categories is their originating in someone other than the author. But while readily concurring that the exact form and content of passus divisions can be highly idiosyncratic, as with Oxford, MS CCC zoi ff), I find it hard to doubt that the twentypassus + prologue structure goes back to Langland, even if the fourfold Visio/lf,'ita schema may derive from the archetypal scribe of the B-text. The passus itself constitutes a real, not a notional, 'outer' structuring device, notwithstanding the variability of wording in individual copies, and that the arcbeopal passus divisions are not arbitrary becomes immediately clear from a glance at MS F, whose passus divisions appear attempts to register the poem's 'inner' organization into dreams (Weldon and M.-C. Uhart).

Much information on the manuscripts is already available in the EETS and Athlone editions and in the dissertation of M.-C. Uhart generously acknowledged on the title page; but this is the first comprehensive guide to the content of each B-copy and will be of great value to Langland scholars, and not only those with a special interest in textual matters. …

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