Langland the Outsider
This essay begins by reviewing some of the known, even if vague, details of L’s life and work, and determines that since there are no other examples in medieval writing of a wholly fictitious “I,”we can assume that Will in the poem is something of a conscientious authorial voice, from which we can extrapolate information. Judging from external documentation, we can surmise that L was born between 1325-1335; John But, who wrote those now well-known lines in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson poet. 137, died in 1387, which we may accept as the terminus ad quem for all versions of the poem. In terms of the poet’s reading before coming to London, Winner and Wastour seems likely; in terms of his writing, we can rethink the precedence of A, since most MSS. of B are earlier than those of A, and since A is often completed by C, and never by B. “There are no copies of C in a London dialect.” The essay concludes with a discussion of C.5, pointing out the distinctions between Reason and Conscience in their remarks to Will, and with a suggestion that L remained an outsider to London.
Minnis, Middle English Poetry: Texts and Traditions: Essays in Honour of Derek Pearsall, 129-37
Hussey, S. S.