Monologic Langland: Contentiousness and the “Z Version” of Piers Plowman
The copy of PPl in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 851, the so-called ‘Z text’, has recently attracted renewed attention as a scribal version of considerable intrinsic interest. Wood re-examines Z alongside another notorious scribal version, the ABC splice in Huntington Library, MS HM 114 (Ht). The promulgation of PPl in multiple versions encouraged the scribal redactors of both manuscripts to reimagine the poem in creative ways. While the Ht redactor enhanced the role of Piers Plowman at the expense of the dreamer Will, the Z redactor offered a more sentimentalized version of Piers and often expanded the ‘I’ of the dreamer. By inserting himself into the ‘I’ of the dream vision, the Z redactor authorized his own compositions while simultaneously enhancing those ‘monologic’ moments at which the dreamer offers apparently authoritative interpretation of his visions. Z’s most notable textual omission, which concludes the poem just before the tearing of the pardon, belongs to a consistent pattern in which the redactor eliminates moments of debate and opposition and expands passages of monologic commentary. Rather than an authorial draft as sometimes argued, the Z text represents an intriguing scribal misapprehension of the original poet’s ‘contentious’ compositional style.
Review of English Studies, 68:284 (2017), 224–43.