Title Background

The Reliability of the Rubrics in the B-Text of <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

The Reliability of the Rubrics in the B-Text of Piers Plowman.

Many contemporary studies of the structure of PPl have mistakenly assumed that the major rubrics published in the Skeat Parallel Text edition (i.e., “Visio,” “Vita de Dowel,” “Vita de Dobet,” and “Vita de Dobest”) still possess unquestioned textual authority. However, neither of the recent critical editions of the B version of PPl accords the rubrics any clear authority; in fact, the KaneDonaldson edition omits all reference to the rubrics on the grounds that they are almost certainly inauthentic. An examination of the 13-family manuscripts reveals that the doubts of the modern editors are well-founded. Even omitting such anomalies as the eccentric passus divisions of Corpus Christi, Oxford, ms. 201, we find that the extant B manuscripts manifest at least five different patterns for segmenting the poem. Of these five patterns, any one of three may be authorial-or none may be. The Skeat pattern is variously supported by approximately ten witnesses (all of which derive from the same major family-limb beta), while six, spread over both major families, segment the poem only at B.7-8 or by passus divisions alone. The pervasive presence of the Skeat rubrics among many manuscripts is probably due to their contamination from a single heavily edited copy rather than to authorial intent. Clear evidence of this contamination is still visible in ms. Rawlinson Poetry 38. Chart 11 provides the only published list of all B-version ms rubrics.


MAE 54 (1985): 208-31.

Cross Reference



Adams, Robert.