Title Background

<i>Piers Plowman</i> B. 13.331 (330): Some ‘Shrewed’ Observations.

Piers Plowman B. 13.331 (330): Some ‘Shrewed’ Observations.

B. 13.331 (Skeat; K-D B. 13.330) illustrates how scribes, modern editors, and perhaps even WL revising the corrupt scribal copy of the B text interpreted ambiguity caused by lack of clear punctuation in the original texts. I shrewed has been rendered I-shrewed, ppl. of shreuen, used as an adj. modifying men with the phrase thus turned into a dramatic apostrophe by the Dreamer (Skeat) or so construed grammatically but given to Haukyn as a self-accusation (Wright); more recent editors (K-D and Schmidt) read ysherewed, a first-person preterite form of otherwise unattested ME ishreuen. But the small number of new verbs in ME formed by adding i- to already existing verbs generally and in PPl in particular argues against this. Suggests instead taking I as the 1st pers. sing. pron. and shrewed as the 1st per. pret. of shreuen, as in various MSS. of the poem. As a shepster shere (330) either modifies the verb frete in 330 (Skeat, Schmidt) or the verb of 331b, consistent with the emendation proposed above: “As with a dressmaker’s shears I damned and cursed men.” Whereas all B-text MSS. end 330 after my-selue and begin 331 with Wythinne, K-D alone moves withInne to the end of 329, its position in C. All editions take it as modifying frete; and though it is possible it modifies the following verb, meaning that Haukyn cursed men silently and inwardly, there is no evidence in scribal treatments of the line that it was ever so considered.


YLS 1 (1987): 108-16.


Matheson, Lister M.