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By C. David Benson

The fourteenth-century alliterative poem Piers Plowman was once commonly well known in its personal day. The variety of its surviving manuscripts ranks slightly below that of Chaucer?’s Canterbury stories. even supposing the poem has been the topic of a few fascinating contemporary serious scholarship, it is still marginalized by means of medievalists and non-medievalists alike. in response to C. David Benson, this is why the tendency of recent feedback has been to learn Piers as an autobiography mired within the singular highbrow obsessions of its writer or as a recondite exploration of theological and political matters. In Public Piers Plowman, Benson returns the poem to the heart of overdue medieval English tradition via treating it as a public instead of a private or elite paintings. Public Piers Plowman is split into elements. the 1st is a longer essay on what Benson calls the "Langland myth." He lines the evolution of Piers scholarship and demonstrates the constraints of treating Piers as a right away expression of the poet?’s lifestyles and highbrow perspectives. good over a century after its construction, the Langland delusion continues to be dominant in stories of the poem, blocking off different very likely fruitful methods. within the moment half Benson bargains an alternate background for the poem. even though Piers is mostly in comparison with excessive artwork and concept, comparable to that of Chaucer or scholasticism, Benson ways it from a broader public context, utilizing consultant examples from vernacular writing, parish artwork, and civic practices. He argues that Piers reached a large modern viewers simply because, faraway from being an expression of the author?’s personal lifestyles and reviews, it was once securely rooted within the universal tradition of its time and position. Public Piers Plowman is an formidable paintings that dares to confront a real literary masterpiece. within the procedure, it makes this nice poem extra obtainable, interesting, and essential to glossy readers.

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For older suggestions about the multiple authorship of Piers, as previously mentioned, see DiMarco, “Eighteenth-Century Suspicions” and his Reference Guide, ‒, ‒. For suggestions of dual authorship made by Crowley, Hearne, and Wright, see Brewer, Editing, , , ‒. . Although Manly began with a textual argument (the so-called lost leaf), it soon became clear that he himself had not actually studied the manuscripts of Piers but relied on Skeat’s texts. , and Chambers and Grattan, “Text” ().

In an early form of his Langland biography, Skeat qualified his conclusions with phrases such as “the balance of evidence,” “the probability,” and “hints which we need not suppose untrue” (Text A, xxxvi). The fuller formulation of  was still cautious, as we have seen: “[W]e may now piece together the following account of him, which is probably true” (“Section VIII,” ). In an obituary notice A. J. Wyatt noted that Skeat’s “judgment did not appear to be founded upon great principles; he was apt to reverse a decision” (Sherbo, “Skeat” ).

M. Bowers, “Editing the Text,” ; cf. Brewer, Editing, chap. ). The controversy over multiple authorship did have the effect of discouraging comparison between different versions of Piers, however; for a long time critical books tended to deal with only a single version of the poem: Dunning on A in , Donaldson on C in , and Frank on B in . In , Elizabeth Kirk offered one of the first detailed comparisons of different versions in her Dream Thought, though she sidestepped the authorship question by referring to the A-author and so on.

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