Title Background

Printing Writing, Writing, and Reading <i>Piers Plowman</i>

Printing Writing, Writing, and Reading Piers Plowman

This book, which discusses the key shift from manuscript to print culture in the history of books, includes a chapter on PPl as a case study of the way in which a medieval text’s unique tradition influenced its transition from manuscript to print. The first section of the chapter deals with Crowley’s print edition of PPl, including material revised from ‘PPl and Tudor Regulation of the Press’, YLS, 20 (2006), 93-114 (see ‘Annotated Bibliography 2006’, YLS, 21 (2007), item 32). Schoff argues that Crowley’s presentation of L shows ‘several ways in which the figure of the author could be useful in the print culture of early modern England: as a commercial selling point; as the signifier of a literary quality determining the aesthetic of the correct or original text; as a historically situated reference point for interpreting the work, and as a fixed bibliographic marker of the text that enabled both censorship and celebrity’ (p. 172).

The next section analyzes the A-text continuation by John But and the C-text revisions. Generally, the section asserts that ‘[j]ust as Crowley’s preface instructs readers to view L as a voice of authority, . . . the A and C text revisions presented contemporary readers with a way to read Will as an author-figure—though Will is a very different kind of author-figure for these manuscript versions’ (p. 174). Unlike an authorial attribution in a printed edition, the internal presence of Will in the poem does not ‘limi[t] its interpretation by forming an external point to which the poem might be fixed’ (p. 201). Nonetheless, ‘the author-figure internal to PPl does address some of the same issues for a manuscript audience that Crowley’s external attribution addressed in print: the stability of texts, the place of the reader, and the ethics of artistry’ (p. 202).

A final section in the chapter turns to ‘two sixteenth-century copies of PPl, one in manuscript and one in print, in order to examine evidence of the reception of PPl in both media in early modern England’ (p. 143). Schoff argues that this evidence indicates lingering resistance to Crowley’s understanding of the poem and continued readerly involvement consistent with the tradition of PPl, even as a new authorial role is recognized for L, as an external reference for interpretation. (RS)

Rev. by:

  • Elizabeth Evershed, Medium Ævum, 77 (2008), 349–50;
  • Robert Costomiris, JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 108 (2009), 408-11; 
  • Bryan P. Davis, Journal of the Early Book Society, 12 (2009), 307-09; 
  • Thomas Prendergast, Speculum, 84 (2009), 1109-11.


Reformations: Three Medieval Authors in Manuscript and Moveable Type, Texts and Transitions, 4 (Brepols: Turnhout, 2007), pp. 141–206.


Schoff, Rebecca L.