Title Background

As They Read It’: Some Notes on Early Responses to the G-Version of <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

As They Read It’: Some Notes on Early Responses to the G-Version of Piers Plowman.

The first of the critical readers of the B Text was the revising poet himself, who was dependent on a scribally prepared copy of B which contained a good deal of error. He did not undertake line-by-line revision; instead, he chose to rework unsatisfactory sections. Although in re-reading he went beyond repair to re-creation (especially where he could not recall the lost A- or 13-reading), he did not attend to all the transmitted error of his B copy. Some of the finished revision of the surviving C MS. tradition may in fact be the work of an editor or literary executor, while the absence of revision in C.21-22 suggests either a damaged exemplar or an uncompleted revision. The scribes transmitted the C version faithfully. Only MS. Bodley 851 and National Library of Wales MS. 733B offer radically variant texts. The Ilchester MS. is analogous to HM 114 in representing an attempt at a harmony of the various versions of the poem. HM 143, the most reliable witness to the C-archetype, errs on the average of once every nine lines, but with the great majority of such errors purely mechanical. For whatever reason, the work of this scribe’s correcting supervisor tailed off toward the end. Four scribes are known to us: two were probably professionals; one was an orthodox Tudor nobleman, executed under Henry VIII, who copied without any attempt to intervene in or censor the text; the fourth was a cleric who added lines 16.181-200a on a blank folio in a form closely resembling that of Cambridge University Library MS. Ff.5.35. There are no C MSS. like the great and elaborate Chaucer MSS., and only one, Digby 145, that shows signs of aristocratic patronage. But C MSS. are not to be associated with a socially or ecclesiastically dissenting ownership: a number were probably prepared for wealthy patrons; others are associated with monastic interest. There is little evidence of tendentious or ideological copying activity in the C tradition. Notes that five C MSS. contain readings that are clearly original but have been lost in the traditions of the other MSS.; at least sometimes these readings must have resulted from consultation of a more accurate exemplar.


LSE ns 20 (1989): 173-89.


Russell, George.