Title Background

The Structure of <i>Piers Plowman</i> B XV–XX: Evidence from the Rubrics

The Structure of Piers Plowman B XV–XX: Evidence from the Rubrics

In B passûs 15 and 19, several manuscripts have rubric headings that specify not one but two of the Do‘s (e.g., ‘Passus xvus finit dowel et incipit dobet’, MS L). Scribes understood these ‘split rubrics’ in two ways: as referring by their explicits to the preceding passus and by their incipits to that about to begin; or as indicating that these passûs contain only parts of the two Do’s. The second of these approaches, as Coghill observed long ago, is supported by the fact that Will’s query ‘What is charite?’ (15.149) seems a good beginning of Dobet, and the granting of the keys to Piers/Peter (19.182), of Dobest. Textual evidence suggests that the beta-group ancestor had split rubrics in passûs 15 and 19, and that this scheme went back to the B archetype and back to the poet himself. The significance of the rubrics in B should not be so lightly dismissed as they often are in the wake of Robert Adams’s essays.


Medium Ævum, 77 (2008), 306–12.


Burrow, J. A.