Dauy Dycars Dreame and Robert Crowley’s Prints of Piers Plowman
Robert Crowley’s publication of PPl in 1550, the first printing of the poem, has been seen as responding to a relaxation of censorship in the reign of Edward VI; this, it is argued, enabled him to edit the poem as a prophetic endorsement of the Reformation, his editions initiating a revival of interest in the poem and inspiring the composition of imitative writings, including Dauy Dycars Dreame. This essay challenges this thesis. It presents evidence that PPl was interpreted as prophecy in manuscript before and during this period. The printed broadside Dauy Dycars Dreame, and thirteen related printed texts, it is argued, are aware of this tradition and deploy the language of PPl to debate, in humorous and serious registers, correct ways of reading prophetic medieval poetry and the dangers of misreading and political unrest, particularly when such texts are freely disseminated in print. Evidence is presented to demonstrate that, contrary to previous assumptions, the Dreame antedates Crowley’s print. It is suggested that Crowley was aware of this tradition of reading PPl and the debate associated with it, and his comments on the prophetic passages in PPl are read as responses to it. It is further proposed that, rather than Crowley’s print initiating a fashion for imitations of PPl which included the Dreame, publication of the Dreame may have stimulated the market for printed copies of PPl and there may have developed a symbiotic relation between the printing of the medieval poem and the success of the Dreame and its series. (WS)
YLS, 21 (2007), 171-98.