Title Background

The Ur-B <i>Piers Plowman</i> and the Earliest Production of C and B.

The Ur-B Piers Plowman and the Earliest Production of C and B.

Warner asserts a new account of the earliest production and transmission of the longer versions of PPl, on the basis of the behavior of MS. NLW 733B. L’s own B text took a form different from, and shorter than, what we have come to call B: Warner calls this the “ur-B” version. Next came an ur-C text he calls “the N version,” now attested in part in NLW 733B. The ancestor of the W+ manuscript group of the B version incorporated at least eighty lines from the N version, including the “poison of possession” forty-line passage in K-D B.15.533–69, which had been composed on loose sheets that went from L’s C papers to the guardian of the ur-B exemplar. Warner argues that when the ancestor of the other B group, RF, was produced, the loose sheets of N matter available to W+ had been recalled for final C revision, but in the meantime dozens of individual C-revisions had made their way into RF’s hands, as seen in the many RF-C readings that conflict W+-N ones. He adds that it is also possible, and at least as likely as other explanations of the phenomenon, that the nearly identical appearance of the final two pass?s of B and C came about because they were among the C matter that passed through the hands of a scribe in the ur-B line of transmission. In sum, if B did circulate before the N version (i.e., before about 1390), it did so in forms we have yet to recover or imagine. [LW]


YLS 15 (2002): 3–39.


Warner, Lawrence.