The Rock and the Plough: John Grandisson William Langland and ‘Piers Plowman‘: A Theory of Authorship, William Langland and ‘Piers Plowman‘: A Theory of Authorship
Argues, against the traditional dating, that Bishop John Grandisson of Exeter (1292-1369) wrote by 1369 the three versions of PPl, or at least A, B, and enough of C to leave to a literary executor. Comparing Grandisson’s letters and Register in French and Latin to passages in PPl, the author notes many similar concerns and parallel uses of liturgy; finds that the only secure external evidence of the authorship of PPl points toward the author’s and Bishop Grandisson’s birthplace of Ledbury; and argues that the passages in the poem that have some use for dating it may not have been the first lines written, or may even have been inserted by those friends of Grandisson seeking to distance him from a poem with such outspoken criticism of “popes, bishops and kings.”Still other passages may not traditionally be interpreted according to their correct topical meaning: e.g., not the Schism of 1378 but the papal election of 1314 may be referred to at B.Prol.100 ff. By this redating and reascription, further passages gain new topical meanings: thus the “mansed preest”of Ireland may refer to the opponents in the 1340s and 50s of Richard FitzRalph, a “close friend”of Grandisson. The study includes an extensive comparison of Latin quotations in PPl with their appearance in Grandisson’s Exeter Use, Ottery Statutes, Register, and personal letters. Although Grandisson is not connected to any known English writing, the clumsy Latin of Grandisson’s will may indicate that the bishop had spent so much of his last decade writing English that he had lost his Latin facility. The author finds sufficient traces of irony and self-parody in Grandisson’s letters to support the connection to Will the Dreamer; and even Dame Study’s bemusement at Theology may be paralleled by the fact that Grandisson never obtained any formal qualification in theology. The MSS. evidence does not rule out the argument; for instance, the range of dialects in the scribes can be matched with Grandisson’s associates, areas of pastoral duty, and thus access to a variety of places where he might have released various portions of his English poetic labors. Bale’s usually dismissed comment that “Robert L completed his work in 1369″may thus be taken as (partly) accurate.
Rev. Stephan A. Barney, YLS 17 (2003): 221-22.