Title Background

Prostitutes in the C-Text of <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

Prostitutes in the C-Text of Piers Plowman.

Argues that in writing the C text of PPl, L revised nearly every passage in the B text that mentions prostitutes, including several references to Mary Magdalene.  Revision takes many forms: elaboration, excision, rearrangement, amplification, and re-attribution of speakers; through these processes, ‘Prostitution, as act and as industry, appears naggingly throughout the C-text, most often in the nexus of money and waste, themes central to the very fabric of L’s life and art.’ A pattern can be traced in these revisions. In the C text L intensifies his criticism of prostitution, increasingly associates it with usury and with ‘lollers’, and vitiates passages that exemplify divine mercy for prostitutes. Scenes featuring Mary Magdalene exemplify this pattern too. Her appearance at the resurrection is unchanged because L did not at all revise the final 2 passus of B (for unclear reasons). However, since Mary Magdalene was often associated with other Marys in scripture, passages that feature her receiving mercy are drastically reduced or omitted.  Many of these revised passages concerning both Mary and prostitution display the C text’s preference for the ‘groan’ of penance over the miracle of mercy.  They accordingly reflect a bitterness and sharpening of social and economic criticism; for example, in B the ‘least of the commons’ calls Meed a ‘whore’; in C they all call her a ‘quaint, common whore’.  L evidently took specific care even at the level of the half-line in some places, to intensify his treatment of prostitutes and of the sinful economic chains that link them to society and to clergy: ‘L’s depictions of whores and money, more than just stock complaint about the traditional crafts of folly and more than just misogynist slander, enable the poet to reveal. . . deadly pastoral failures.’ The essay thus attempts to understand the poetic, doctrinal, and, historical reasons for the thorough recasting of prostitution in the C text of PPl.