Title Background

Loose Leaves Lost Leaves, Lost Leaves, and the Text of <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Loose Leaves Lost Leaves, Lost Leaves, and the Text of Piers Plowman

Hanna challenges arguments about the text of PPl that hypothesize the existence of lost ‘loose leaves’. He calls them into question on logical grounds (the ‘loose leaf’, he claims, is a ‘thoroughly hypothetical invention’, whose existence ‘depends entirely on a prior logical construction’ (p. 188)) and on codicological grounds: medieval book producers avoided using loose leaves because they were difficult to incorporate securely, and lost individual leaves are very rare in the surviving manuscripts of PPl. Hanna considers the situation of Emmanuel College Cambridge, MS 34, which shows how medieval scribes might expand on an existing text without inserting loose leaves. This manuscript contains a copy of the short version of Rolle’s Incendium amoris, corrected against a copy of the long version, which its owner, John Neuton, believed to be Rolle’s autograph copy. The corrections appear on the standing leaves: between the lines, in the margins, and in the blank spaces at the bottom of each page. A series of longer excerpts from the long version, designed to supplement this corrected text, are copied elsewhere in the manuscript, which also contains a text of the long version, but without the material that has already been copied; signes de renovi guide the reader between the displaced passages. Hanna proposes that L used a similar technique, presenting his archetypal scribes with full, normally constructed quires of new material, and using markers to show where they should be inserted into the existing text. In closing, Hanna notes that arguments about lost ‘loose leaves’ often attempt to explain accidentally convergent variation and conflation, two phenomena that require further critical attention.


Journal of the Early Book Society, 19 (2016), 187–96.


Hanna, Ralph