Title Background

John But and the Ending of the A Version of <i>Piers Plowman</i>

John But and the Ending of the A Version of Piers Plowman

This article reconsiders the conclusion to the A version of PPl attributed to John But, reassessing how much of it can be attributed to But and how much to L himself. Where previous critics have sought to identify the historical John But on the assumption that this will shed light on the biography of L, the article adopts a more sceptical stance. It begins by deconstructing Edith Rickert’s claims to have identified John But with a royal messenger of that name, showing how this is based on a number of baseless assumptions that have not been questioned by subsequent scholarship. The article goes on to consider other John Buts that have been proposed as possible candidates for the continuator, including the Norfolk family associated with the Rokele family discussed by Robert Adams and argued to have been a close associate. But instead of attempting to identify John But with a historical individual, the article questions the reasons for assuming a connection between continuator and poet. Rather than seeing But’s conclusion as an attempt by a friend and admirer to claim the work as L’s, the continuation is viewed alongside other scribal attempts to provide a satisfactory ending for L’s unfinished work. When compared with other scribal attempts to impose closure upon the A version, John But’s decision to name himself does not appear unusual, since several copyists include their names in scribal colophons. Instead of considering John But as a member of L’s coterie, the article suggests that his knowledge of the author may have been entirely derived from reading his work. Analysis of the text composed by But and comparison with other scribally composed lines leads to the suggestion that But may have been familiar with L’s poem from have copied it. (SH)


Yearbook of Langland Studies, 33 (2019), 127–42


Horobin, Simon