Title Background

MS. Bodley 851 and the Dissemination of <i>Piers Plowman</i>

MS. Bodley 851 and the Dissemination of Piers Plowman

(Reprinted, with slight revision, from Hanna’s article “Studies in the Manuscripts of Piers Plowman,” YLS 7 [1993]: 1-25.) Rigg and Brewer’s claim for the “Z text” as a pre-1388 version of the poem requires that the quire containing John of Wells’s bookplate be integral with substantial parts of the remainder of the codex. But several features of Bodley 851–separate signature systems, quiring anomalies that result in blank leaves filled in by later hands, wear on external leaves of individual sections, and diverse page formats in the codex–all indicate that the manuscript reflects a community product, compiled through a series of separate acts of production, probably separate in time. Although Rigg and Brewer identify hand X as that of John of Wells, it is more likely that John was hand A, who copied the Latin works included in the codex. Hand X was probably a later scribe at Ramsey who extended the Wells booklet with a new one containing Piers Z, which derived from an offbeat neighborhood archetype of the A text. Rigg and Brewer contend that Z’s substantial agreement with B against A represents WL’s reassertion of original readings in B rather than B contamination in Z, since “there were presumably more A MSS around at the time” to exert contaminating influence. But the A version, a coterie text, had only minimal circulation before 1425.