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Impossible Piers

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-239
Number of pages17
Issue number274
PublishedApr 2015

King's Authors


My 2011 book The Lost History of Piers Plowman revealed a case of manuscript affiliations between the C portion of National Library of Wales 733B and the beta group of B that, I argued, meant that the B archetype of Piers was heavily contaminated by an early draft of C. The other seemingly obvious explanation, beta of B > NLW 733B contamination, is impossible because it would not explain how the contamination occurred so overwhelmingly where the other manuscript tradition of B, alpha, was lacking, spurious, or agreed with C. Robert Adams and Thorlac Turville-Petre have recently argued in this journal that what I deemed impossible is in fact ‘the most straightforward’ explanation of NLW 733B’s text, though they address none of the difficulties I raised and critique not my arguments but those of straw men. They also take opposing sides of issues, as suits whatever local claim they make: on the one hand the NLW 733B scribe desired a ‘complete’ Piers Plowman, but on the other he merely replaced a few lines; he used beta throughout his copying, but used it only in his C Text; it was the scribe of his exemplar who was a denizen of the London book-trade, but it was he himself. Most difficult is that their narrative of the supposed beta of B > NLW 733B contamination relies on the belief that two separate scribes in turn consulted separate manuscripts solely for indications of what to omit from, rather than add to, their own copies. What Adams and Turville-Petre advocate is an impossible Piers.

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