Title Background

A Misattributed Speech in Piers Plowman A XI 182-218, A XI 182-218

A Misattributed Speech in Piers Plowman A XI 182-218, A XI 182-218

This speech has hitherto been attributed by all editors, including Schmidt, to Clergy’s wife, Scripture. Here, Schmidt offers three reasons, “two interpretative and one textual,” for assigning the speech to Clergy instead (239). The first, and important, interpretative reason is that in B (10.232-329) and in C (11.141-61) this speech is assigned to Clergy. This re-attribution allows us to read Scripture’s intervention at B.10.331 as a response to Will’s question about Dowel and earthly dominion at B.10.330 (=A.11.219-24). Thus we avoid the situation where Clergy, despite being the one who greets Will, is given no speech in the A text, which is “unlikely to have been intended by L, however masterful he meant Clergy’s wife to be” (239). The second interpretative reason has to do with the continuation of the A text, passus 12, found in manuscripts RUJ of the A text. This passus begins with Clergy reporting that he has done his duty in teaching Will about Dowel, and this hardly makes sense if Clergy has been silent throughout the A text. It is not important, at this point, to accept the authenticity of A.12 – although Schmidt believes it to be L’s work up to line 98 – because there is “evidence in the main archetypal and sub-archetypal traditions of A” for reading the pronoun at A.11.182 as masculine, and therefore attributing the speech to Clergy (239). The archetypal Ax tradition divides into m and r. The reading “quaþ she” (A.11.182) is found all r manuscripts save three, J, V, and Ch, the last of which has “he,” which is also the reading of the m family. This variation, although not recorded in Schmidt’s parallel text edition, can be found in Knott-Fowler and Kane. Schmidt hypothesizes that the A archetype source manuscript probably used the unstressed, gender-ambiguous pronominal form “a,” which is an identifying feature of the south-west Worcestershire dialect. This pronoun, he suggests, is correctly resolved by the m scribe as “he,” and is, therefore, “the reading we should adopt in the text” (240); the r scribe resolves “a” wrongly as “heo” (which can be found in V), ultimately rendered as “she” by manuscripts of this tradition, with the exception of Ch, whose scribe made “an intelligent guess” in spotting what editors of the poem have failed to see (239).


Notes and Queries 51 (2004): 238-40


Schmidt, A. V. C.