The Langland Myth
The L myth,”which is expressed in those critical commonplaces about the poet’s life, work, retirement, and the three distinct versions of PPl that, among other things, exhibit the poet’s steady maturation, “has inspired sophisticated editing and powerful critical interpretations, yet its very success has tended to obscure the awkward fact that the myth is based on very little solid evidence.” The essay summarizes the emergence of the L myth from, and its incessant return to, Walter Skeat’s hypotheses about the sequence of the three versions, ABC-hypotheses that have often been silently taken as “facts” by later editors and critics such as Kane-Donaldson and Hanna. What distinguishes, therefore, Jill Mann’s argument establishing the A text as a last revision is that it is “the first sustained attempt to explain (rather than just assert) the order of composition.” The myth, finally, obscures other “fruitful approaches”to and speculations about PPl, such as the notion that perhaps the many different versions were authorized by L so as to suit specific audiences in England.
Hewett-Smith, Book of Essays : 83-99
Benson, C. David