Langland in the Early Modern Household: Piers Plowman in Oxford Bodleian Library MS Digby 145, Bodleian Library MS Digby 145, and Its Scribe-Annotator Dialogues
Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Digby 145 contains a highly personalized version of L’s PPl, an amalgamation of the A and C texts copied by its owner Sir Adrian Fortescue in 1532. In this household book, Adrian, his young wife Anne Fortescue, and an unidentified scribe called Hand B annotate the poem with responses not only to L, but to each other, conversing among themselves to an extent unprecedented in PPl manuscripts. This essay argues that Adrian’s dialogue with Hand B develops over the course of the poem, shifting from a mostly peaceful exchange to complete disagreement. As their interactions progress, Hand B expresses a level of outrage at the pope characteristic of a reform-minded sixteenth-century reader reacting against the church’s hierarchical infrastructure. He applies L’s reformist agenda in a nonreformation text to fit his own early modern initiatives and crosses a line that Adrian’s annotations never approach even when he marks anticlerical material. When the institution of marriage comes up at the end of this dialogue, Hand B, aware or not, participates in what feels like a personal husband-wife conversation between Adrian and Anne, challenging their commentary with his own humorous but somewhat uncomfortable contribution.
New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall, ed. by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John Thompson and Sarah Baechle (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), pp. 324-341