Title Background

A Scribal Translation of <i>Piers Plowman</i>

A Scribal Translation of Piers Plowman

BL MS Harley 2376, designated N by Skeat, is a complete copy of the C text produced in the early fifteenth century somewhere in SE Herefordshire only miles away from where Samuels located L’s dialect. This MS reflects a systemic scribal translation operating by the demands of style and register more so than those of geographical, dialectal variation. It indicates a regularization, if not modernization of the poem, possibly for a wealthy patron looking for an easy reading copy of PPl. As for the scribe, there is some indication of a Lollard connection. His translation operates on all levels, from orthography to syntax. Noun and pronoun changes to PPl (the base copy for comparison is X, Huntington Library MS Hm 143) are more conservative; weak noun plurals are much more common. Word order and syntax are altered, as in such cases as C.5.85, where “penaunce discrete” is replaced with “discrete penaunce”; 6.311, “leten y nelle,” changed to “y nel nought lete.” There is a preference for auxiliary verbs, as in Prol.110, “nold noght chasty hem” (N), instead of “chastised hem noght” (X). This scribe’s language is generally more analytic than L’s and evinces a more limited range in vocabulary. The translator/scribe replaces northern dialectical words throughout, as well as words derived from Scandinavian, French, and Anglo-Saxon, particularly “native words in the alliterative position.” The scribe/translator “rejects a very wide range of words, including dialectically exotic, learned, specialized, archaic, and poetic items,” adding to the case that this copy suits easy reading, approximating a spoken idiom. Lexical replacements are detailed in an Appendix.