Title Background

The Power of the Alphabet: A Reassessment of the Relation between the A and the B Versions of <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

The Power of the Alphabet: A Reassessment of the Relation between the A and the B Versions of Piers Plowman.

No external evidence supports the traditional A-B-C sequence of PPl, and assuming that A comes last in the sequence, as a redaction, by WL or another, of the B text, intended for a non-celibate lay audience, perhaps young, and inexpert in Latin, explains the circulation and copying of A after B and C were in existence; the splicing of A with C (though not B), with the abridged text being preferred as far as it went; and the contamination by groups of authentic B or C lines injected into A-text copies. The principles of abridgment of B to A illustrated here are omission of Latin quotations; omission of sexual material; omission of material that might encourage criticism of the clergy or upper ranks of society; and omission of metaphor. Abridgment of Latin material occasionally (B.2.27a / A.2.19-20; B.7.60a / A.8.62) involves replacement with bland English lines. Latin was integral to the workings of WL’s poetic imagination, as was word-play, metaphor and his imagistic thought-process; the fact that A.10.49-80 (replacing B.9.61-95) and A.11.182-203 (replacing B.10.238-97) introduce new Latin quotations, while effectively eliminating others, suggests that when re-writing freely, WL (rather than a redactor) “was unable to stop himself thinking in Latin, as it were, in the manner characteristic of the B text.”

Volume

YLS 8 (1994): 21-50.

Author

Mann, Jill.