Title Background

John But and the Other Works that Will Wrought (<i>Piers Plowman</i> A XII 101–02).

John But and the Other Works that Will Wrought (Piers Plowman A XII 101–02).

The claim that ‘Wille […] wrouathe ?at here is wryten and oþer werkes boþe | Of peres þe plowman and mechel puple also’ (A.12.99, 101–02), in the ‘John But’ passus as attested by Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson Poetry 137 (R), has long been mined as potential evidence for the external history to which it so tantalizingly points. The nearly universal consensus is that But here refers to the B and/or C versions of PPl. This essay argues that the only work But cannot be referring to is PPl in any form. It points out, first, that there is no warrant for the assumption that medieval readers would have seen the different versions of the poem as separate ‘works’ — an assumption that drew from the authorship controversy of the early twentieth century — and that massive evidence exists that they saw all the versions as instances of the identical ‘work’. The essay then shows that the common interpretation of the lines distorts the syntax and alliterative conventions at work here: line 101’s ‘boþe’ modifies the two preceding terms, denoting ‘too’, and not those following in the next line, and line 102 repeats line 101: ‘Will wrought what is written here, about Piers the Plowman, and other works too, about many people also.’