Title Background

Impossible Piers

Impossible Piers

Warner’s 2011 book The Lost History of ‘Piers Plowman’ revealed a case of manuscript affiliations between the C portion National Library of Wales 733B and the beta group of B, and argued from this evidence that the B archetype of PPl was heavily contaminated by an early draft of C. The other seemingly obvious explanation, beta of B > NLW 733B contamination, is impossible because it would not explain how the contamination occurred so overwhelmingly where the other manuscript tradition of B, alpha, was lacking, spurious, or agreed with C. Robert Adams and Thorlac Turville-Petre have recently argued in RES that what Warner deemed impossible is in fact ‘the most straightforward’ explanation of NLW 733B’s text. In this article, Warner replies that Adams and Turville-Petre address none of the difficulties he raised and critique not his arguments but those of straw men. He also contends that Adams and Turville-Petre take opposing sides of issues as suits whatever local claim they make: so, on the one hand the NLW 733B scribe desired a ‘complete’ PPl, but on the other he merely replaced a few lines; he used beta throughout his copying, but used it only in his C text; it was the scribe of his exemplar who was a denizen of the London book-trade, but it was he himself. Most difficult is that their narrative of the supposed beta of B > NLW 733B contamination relies on the belief that two separate scribes in turn consulted separate manuscripts solely for indications of what to omit from, rather than add to, their own copies. What Adams and Turville-Petre advocate is an impossible Piers.


Review of English Studies, 66 (2015), 223-39


Warner, Lawrence