Introduction: Studying piers plowman in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

Andrew Cole, Andrew Galloway

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


Scholarship on Piers Plowman in the second decade of the twenty-first century looks very different from that available when the first academic journal devoted to the poem, the Yearbook of Langland Studies, arrived on library and personal bookshelves in 1987, soon followed by the first “companion” to Piers Plowman in 1988. The quantum of new research, editions, commentaries, and monographs presents a poem and a range of approaches to it that would hardly be recognizable to scholars twenty years ago. New information about the manuscripts of the poem and their affiliations, recent historical discoveries, and important chartings of the literary, cultural, and theoretical scope of the poem, have all emerged. We have reached a point that rewards our taking stock of knowledge about this perennially intriguing poem, and encourages us to highlight some of the most important and promising terms for current teaching, criticism, and research. The need for a consolidation of current prospects (emphatically in the plural) is hardly surprising, given the many complexities and mysteries that have always made Piers Plowman a moving target. Even basic issues are hardly “settled” in the way they are for Chaucer or Gower – after all, there are real reasons why scholars feel it necessary to reaffirm, repeatedly, that one poet named Langland wrote the three (or perhaps four) versions of the poem we call Piers Plowman. Both the choice of what edition of the poem to use and the question of how to understand the relations between the different versions – both matters that Ralph Hanna considers in his chapter here – have long remained intriguingly open, and in some respects do so to the present. On the matter of editions for citation, for example, contributors to this collection have chosen either the compendious “Athlone” texts edited by George Kane, E. Talbot Donaldson, and George Russell, or the more student-friendly volumes more recently edited by A. V. C. Schmidt, and of the latter, authors have chosen either Schmidt's parallel-text “full” edition, including the controversial “Z” text, or his paperback edition of just the B text. Insofar as this question of “which edition?” is at once a question of “which version?,” our contributors might have chosen C as the “final” version of the poem, or they might have used all the versions for comparison of every point.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to
Subtitle of host publicationPiers Plowman
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511920691
ISBN (Print)9781107009189
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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