Editorial Glossing and Reader Resistance in a Copy of Robert Crowley’s Piers Plowman
This chapter focuses on a copy of Robert Crowley’s 1550 edition of PPl held by the British Library, shelfmark C 122 d 9. Crowley’s editing of L’s work was long considered as an instance of Reformist appropriation of a pre-Reformation text: an extreme version of the appropriation of the medieval ploughman figure that had occurred over the previous two centuries, and which had transformed ‘Piers’ from L’s complex symbol into a stock spokesperson for religious reform. This chapter develops the modification of that position which has occurred in recent scholarship. Building on the findings of critics including Mike Rodman Jones, Larry Scanlon and Rebecca Schoff, it first re-examines the paratexts of Crowley’s first and second editions of PPl (1550). It argues that the scope for differing interpretations arises from the experimental quality of Crowley’s glossing, as he tests its potential both to establish L as part of the developing vernacular literary canon and to encourage his readers actively to reflect on and engage with the text. Central to both aims is his insistence that L’s work should not be read as prophecy. At least one early reader strenuously resists Crowley’s guidance on this point, however; the second half of the chapter examines the numerous annotations in this reader’s copy of Crowley’s second edition which insist that the poem is prophetic of the Reformation. It argues that this difference of opinion not only reveals two distinct ways of reading PPl, but also indicates something about the way in which the annotator thought about the relationship between L’s text and Crowley’s glosses, and thus about the status of a printed text.