The Transmission of Alliterative Poetry: Scribal Practice in the A Text of William Langland’s Piers Plowman
This article analyzes the scribal variants collected in the critical apparatus of Kane’s edition of the A text in order to assess the extent to which scribes reduce the typical three stave alliterative pattern of PPl during the copying process. The findings show that in some manuscripts this happened surprisingly frequently and that some scribes changed words in their copies regardless of the position the words occupied within a line. Almost half of all known manuscripts of the A text have a frequency of lines with reduced alliteration that is higher than 8% (i.e. every twelfth line) and four manuscripts (HEAM) even feature percentages markedly higher than that (more than 11%). It seems that some variants were introduced at such an early stage that they were passed down in the text tradition. The second part of the article looks into possible reasons for the introduction of variants reducing alliteration, such as mechanical errors, dialectal variants, or semantically related words. (NSJ)
Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 113 (2012), 85-104.