Title Background

Langland’s <i>Ars Grammatica</i>

Langland’s Ars Grammatica

L’s literary practices, like Chaucer’s, are much more deeply rooted in grammar school texts and practices than has generally been claimed or recognized. This is a fact that L signals in the third vision of PPl where his tour of the various ‘academic’ sources of knowledge is only casually in touch with the procedures of disputation (although this patina is often the most noticed attribute of this tour), but proceeds, generally, according to schoolroom forms: a tutelary figure, speaking at length, guides an often puerile Will out of basic errors. In these encounters and throughout the poem it can be shown that L is citing texts in the standard schoolroom curriculum more often than is also commonly perceived, and, where not citing such texts directly, his language can be shown to be strongly affected by the language and emphases in these texts (or glosses on them). L may owe most to the schoolroom, however, in the Latin quotations that are usually seen as the very hallmark of his style: surviving schoolbooks make clear that some of these quotations were regularly employed as ‘latinitates’, the model sentences used in schoolbooks as prompts for translation exercises. L’s ‘quotations’ are often treated as such ‘latinitates’, not only as he translates them into English in the course of the poem, but as he often refuses to (assuming a basic Latin competence in his readers) or works in the other direction, translating (so the shape of the poem implies) his own English into Latin. Such training would have habituated L to writing in Latin as well translating it, and there are passages in the poem where the syntactic changes L has made to known ‘sources’ show him working in precisely this way. It is therefore also likely that a number of unsourceable phrases and quotations — in particular, the phrase ‘patientes vincunt’ — are not quotations at all, but, rather, Latin phrases that L himself devised. (CC)


YLS, 22 (2008), 1–25.


Cannon, Christopher