William Langland’ ,
Provides an overview of PPl‘s plot (via the nineteenth-century annotations in a copy of Crowley’s third edition now at Duke University), its prosody, use of Latin, and its criticism. It argues for renewed attention to the poem at the level of the line as a productive engagement with its historical reception: John Ball, for instance, might never have seen a manuscript of it, or heard any more than some catch-phrases that already synecdochically substituted the revolutionary ‘Piers the Plowman’ for the spiritual guide of L’s poem. An approach to PPl that emphasizes its plot above all else both fails to account for responses such as that of Ball and assumes a correlation between the surviving shapes of the manuscripts and what L originally wrote, despite the chronological lateness of all manuscripts and our knowledge that early readers were happy to conflate what we now take to be separate authorial versions in their quest for a ‘complete’ copy. Moreover, while some readers sought completeness, others went in the opposite direction, responding to PPl not as a sequential depiction of the dreamer’s quest, but instead as a series of set-pieces, or even simply as a repository of particular modes of rhetoric, such as anti-ecclesiastical satire or prophecy. (LW)
Volume rev. by Anne Scott, Parergon, 29.1 (2012), 248-50.