Title Background

The Ending and End, and End, of <i>Piers Plowman</i> B: The C-Version Origins of the Final Two Passus

The Ending and End, and End, of Piers Plowman B: The C-Version Origins of the Final Two Passus

This essay argues that the ‘Vita de Dobest’, as a number of manuscripts label the final two passûs of B and C, were almost certainly not in the first major revision of PPl as it appeared before the completion of the C version. Its major claim is that the nearly identical appearance of ‘Dobest’ in B and C came about because these passages entered the former’s manuscript tradition from the latter’s, rather than the other way around. This conclusion arises from the circumstance that there is no single B.19–20 to begin with, since the two major manuscript groups of that version differ as the result of separate stages of authorial production. The essay begins by pointing out that, despite the critical silence about it, the possibility that C.21–22 became B.19–20 is in some ways preferable to the other explanations of the phenomenon of their nearly identical appearance, even before the textual evidence is assessed. It then turns to that evidence, manifested in the alpha family’s pattern of agreements with C against the beta family in these two passûs, which is much too pervasive to be attributed either to coincident substitution of alpha and C or to the beta scribe’s sudden incompetence after the end of passus 18. The alpha scribe, that is, received about one hundred small revisions to these passûs, made after the text as copied by the beta scribe was produced. A number of indications, especially that so many major errors were not corrected, show that this occurred during the very last stages of C’s production. This is a very complicated narrative, to be sure, but nevertheless simpler than are any alternatives currently available. (LW)