Title Background

Editing <i>Piers Plowman</i> B: The Imperative of an Intermittently Critical Edition.

Editing Piers Plowman B: The Imperative of an Intermittently Critical Edition.

Emphasizing the corruption of the B archetype, and often without imposing on themselves strict standards of evidence, Kane and Donaldson seldom refrain from making critical judgments in the supposed absence of adequate textual evidence. Whenever B readings do not agree with Kane’s A or K-D’s preferred C manuscripts they feel free to choose among B variants without regard to attestation. The A manuscript tradition usually provides three or four independent witnesses to the text and an archetypal reading which, when inferable, is very likely authorial. The B tradition offers at best only two independent lines and a significantly corrupt archetype, yet K-D’s emendations of the B archetype often appear to have been made to reflect a viewpoint already formulated through analysis of scribal activity. Given B’s narrower range of variants, more contextually specific evidence is necessary to support a non-archetypal reading. Forced to compare A and C readings to establish B, K-D often discovered that Kane’s A lection was weakly supported in B, and that lines that had been rejected as scribal in Kane’s A were strongly attested in B. Approximately half of the 150 instances where A and C agree against B and are used to emend it, and only twenty per cent of the cases where such emendation is made on the basis of agreement of B with A alone, are necessary and probable. The Athlone editions assume the traditional order of publication of the three versions, but B may have been the earliest version released and the only one sanctioned by its author, with the reproduction of its text “rigidly though unintelligently controlled by some presumably non-authorial agency.”