Week 3 Epilogue: The 14th Century Comes to a Close

This is just a quick blog to point out to you a feature of the way the manuscript encoding is unfolding over time.  You may not have noticed, but one of the ways I chose where to start was based on chronology.  

This note marks a temporal break between everything that has been encoded so far, and the rest to come.  That is, we have now encoded all of the surviving Piers Plowman manuscripts from the fourteenth century.
 
I’d like, then, to pause to make a brief summary of this collection of manuscripts before we charge ahead into the fifteenth century, which will be split into similar temporal categories that are mapped out in our bar graphs from yesterday. 
1390-1400Bar

In our earliest cohort of manuscripts we have absolutely no representation of any of the early forms of the text (A or B–the Z argument is, I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, settled in favor of its being rather later because of its C interpolations). What thus represents the earliest testimony of Piers, then is the copy that is deemed to be the latest of the three Langlandian archetypes, and one of the most unusual–or least archetypal–versions of the poem. Now, we can’t say anything like, “from the very start, manuscript copying was based on the C-text,” because we can’t possibly know that, and it isn’t really all that likely to be true. 
 
What we can say, however, is that there is absolutely no reason to argue that any choices about what version of the poem to copy had to do with circulation issues* (ok, there might be two very particular instances in which we can argue that, but more on that later on). We don’t want to say that “A was copied after C because because only A was available” (there’s only one instance in which that could possibly be true, and I am disinclined to believe that was the reason A was copied, but again, more on that later). 
 
Thus, I would argue that it is imperative that we start thinking about the choice of which version to copy as completely intentional and consider what it might mean that this manuscript was copied and put together in this fashion
 
The Z-text manuscript is an excellent case in point. There are a great many interesting features of Z, and I’m sure I’m going to skip over a number of them, but what interests me most is that was copied in this context in a very short form, including only a (nominally incomplete) Visio portion of the poem, loosely based on an A format that includes lots of C “contaminations” and over 200 original lines–or “spurious scribal intrusions” as Kane would have called them. Indeed, this by itself is so fascinating that it seems to have spurred several scholars to re-evaluate those very pejorative categories and to think about the creative project of the Z progenitor (whether he is Langland or no). was obviously a special project of its own that took its line of flight from the Piers Visio, but then created its own, unique remix. 
 
“Now, wait just a minute!” some of you Langlandians are saying.  “Z was finished with an A-Visio ending and then furnished with a rather good C-ending! Why aren’t you talking about that? Why doesn’t your line count in the bar graph seem to count that? What in tarnation is going on here?!?” (Yeah, I just put that word “tarnation” right into your mouth.)
 
Don’t worry! I have thought very carefully about how to represent in my corpus imaginings because it has such a complicated copying history.  What you see represented here and in the Z-code blog is only that component of Bodley 851 that was actually produced in the 14th centuryoriginally only had this Visio-length text in a collection of Latin Satires and political poems. I would say that we might learn a lot about the original Z project when we think about including only this amplified version of what Kathryn Kerby-Fulton calls the “external” portion of the poem–i.e. that which is concerned more with the three estates, and is constituted by only the first two dreams of the Field of Folk and the Castle of the King. 
 
The remainder of the Piers text in Bodley 851 can’t properly be called Z-version because it is clearly not made by the Z progenitor.  Instead, at some later date (generally put between 1439 and 1450) someone decided to “complete” this Piers poem by adding the A-Visio supplement and the C Vita. The physical seam in the manuscript is itself readily evident.  Not only does the support change with a new quire, but so too does the hand (as has been amply attested in other work). Thus, for the remainder of the data visualizations that take into account this “completed” Piers text in Z, I will call it a Z(A)C hybrid in line with the other hybrid identifications. 
 
As you well know at this point, I could go on for ages about what’s interesting in these manuscripts, and about these manuscripts as a group.  But, suffice it to say that the real take away here is that from the getgo, the manuscript testimony distinctly does not mirror the Langland revision history. However the extant manuscripts came about, the evidence we have does not attest to earlier circulation of A and later circulation of B and C (which is not to say that it wasn’t true during Langland’s lifetime as the different versions were produced, just that the copying of the poem after Langland’s death doesn’t show that pattern). 
 
This, I would argue, means that we should not tie our explanations of the manuscript history to our explanation of the textual history.  Though the two are related and irrevocably linked–texts in manuscripts, manuscripts that carry texts, etc–the are not the same or even analagous.  We simply must think about the manuscript testimony as a distinct phenomenon and contextualize it by thinking about Piers reception and fifteenth-century book culture. 

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