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The Alterations to <i>Piers Plowman</i> C

The Alterations to Piers Plowman C

This letter replies to Sarah Wood’s 2016 article ‘Langlandian Loose Leaves and Lost Histories’ (The Library, 17), which in turn advances a critique of Warner’s arguments about the early transmission of PPl in The Lost History of Piers Plowman (2011) and elsewhere. Warner objects that Wood’s primary method was to isolate any of his arguments about NLW 733B (N2) and the B archetype, simplify it, and then find a parallel elsewhere for that simplification. For example: Warner responds to Adams and Turville-Petre’s argument that the N2 scribe had three copies on his desk: his A-C exemplar and copies of both the alpha and beta families of B, in which the scribe’s main criterion for selection of B readings to take into his main copy was that the readings and passages not be in alpha. Such an ‘entirely negative’ use of a manuscript, Warner argued, is unprecedented in the history of textual transmission. Wood changes this argument to one in which Warner merely ‘casts doubt on the idea that N[2]’s text could have been produced by contamination involving both a beta and an alpha copy’, identifying a possible instance, a single phrase, in the transmission history of another manuscript: the opposite of what Warner was discussing. Also: Wood says that N2-beta’s version of ‘B.15.533-69’, to which Warner devoted a chapter, is ‘surely’ and ‘overwhelmingly’ scribal, but in fact only four of its thirty-one distinct readings is rejected outright by Schmidt. Even if Wood is right, which seems plausible, Warner replies that he would only wish to revise such earlier remarks as ‘Langland composed these passages on loose sheets,’ or at least specify that by ‘compose’ he did not necessarily mean ‘inscribe in his own hand’: these loose sheets might have been produced by a scribe working from the poet’s own rough copy or wax tablets.