A Piers Plowman Manuscript by the Hengwrt/Ellesmere Scribe and its Implications for London Standard English
In this article, the authors advance the argument that the B version in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.15.17 (W) is the work of the same scribe (Scribe B) who copied the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. Recent studies have further identified the hand of Scribe B in some manuscripts containing other copies of the Canterbury Tales, a fragmentary Troilus and Criseyde, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and Chaucer’s Boece. If correct, the identification of the Trinity College scribe with Scribe B has important “implications for our understanding of the place of L’s work within the metropolitan literary canon” of the period (67). The argument for this identification is detailed in two sections on palaeographical and linguistic evidence respectively. The implications of this argument go beyond whether or not Chaucer and L were read in similar circles or of the question of Chaucer’s familiarity with L’s work. The spelling system favored by Scribe B is generally considered to be witness of the development of standardized London Middle English, or Samuels’s Type III language, and because the Trinity manuscript shares those linguistic features, it has been adopted as a base-text for editions of the B version. If these manuscripts are shown to be the work of the same scribe, then the authors’s attribution here “undermines any attempt to identify the emergence of a standard written language in London in this period” (94). An Appendix details, after Doyle, the graphetic features characteristic of the Hengwrt-Ellesmere Scribe.