Origins of the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive (PPEA)

§ 1 What follows is a progress report on the work of the editors in creating the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive (PPEA), an on-going collaborative scholarly project with the goal of presenting in electronic transcriptions and color digital images the entire medieval through sixteenth-century textual tradition of Langland's difficult poems. Though most of the practical work of editing electronic texts of the manuscripts of Piers Plowman has been undertaken since 1993 when I became a fellow at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), preparation for that work began in the mid-eighties. As a result of a long research program that involved computer-assisted analysis of a corpus of 12,803 alliterative long lines from fifteen different poems, I was full of excitement at the discovery of formerly unsuspected metrical and rhythmic constraints that governed the compositional practices of late Middle English alliterative poets in both rhymed and unrhymed verse (the results of this project are detailed in Duggan 1986a, 1986b, 1987a, 1987b, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2001). Computer analysis made it possible to show a striking relationship between metrical structures and syntactic patterns in both the a- and b-verses. These syntactic and metrical frames appeared to be derived from a common tradition, and my experience in editing the Wars of Alexander with Thorlac Turville-Petre had revealed exciting possibilities for using these grammetrical formulae as one basis for choosing between manuscript variants and emending a single surviving manuscript by conjecture.[1] It was not at first obvious that those metrical findings would have particular reference to the text of Piers Plowman. Indeed, the substantial section from the B version of the poem in my metrical corpus had such a high density of both a- and b-verses that were inconsistent with the metrical rules that governed the composition of other alliterative poems that I initially concluded that Langland's alliterative verse was something of a sport in the tradition. Several more months at work with larger segments of the A, B, and C texts convinced me (with certain reservations) that Langland's metrical practices as they affected the shape and rhythmic structure of the b-verses were in fact consonant with those of other alliterative poets. That is, I saw Langland as a somewhat eccentric practitioner of the art of alliterative poetry who was essentially within the main line of composers (Duggan1987b, 1990b). With that discovery it had become possible to re-collate the Piers manuscripts with a non-impressionistic means of distinguishing authorial variants from those that could not be authorial because they were unmetrical.

§ 2 Both Robert Adams and Turville-Petre were quicker than I to realize the importance of that insight. Both began to speak and write about our preparing a new critical edition of the B text in light of the new possibilities for textual representation and analysis enabled by computer technology. It began to seem likely that the process of preparing electronic versions of the manuscripts and the possibilities of machine analysis and manipulation of those electronic versions would produce, in addition to the metrical discoveries, other more valuable evidence for reconstructing a text closer to the authorial text than had yet been achieved. In 1987 Adams began to construct a database of variant readings among all the manuscripts in the B text with comparative readings from the modern editions of A and C. His database provided the evidence for his important article Editing Piers Plowman B: the imperative of an intermittently critical edition in which he proposed a set of principles for editing the B-texts (Adams 1992). By early 1990, the three of us approached Ralph Hanna and Eric Eliason proposing they should join us in constructing a critical text of B using electronic technology. In mid-1991, Hanna did a demonstration edition of eighty-four lines from passus V of the B archetype, and Adams and I began to prepare electronic copies of passus three from B manuscripts to serve as a basis for experimental collations.[2]

§ 3 In 1991, our plans were focused almost entirely upon using electronic technology to create a new critical text of the B text, and, at that point in our deliberations, of only the B text. Our idea was to create plain-ASCII transcriptions of all of the manuscripts and early printed editions of the B text, to submit those transcriptions to machine collation and analysis, and, from those transcriptions and collations, to construct a critical edition of B.

§ 4 It is perhaps of some interest to point out that the kind of electronic equipment at our disposal in the early nineties was nearly as unsophisticated as our knowledge of the important element of markup languages. Though 80486 computers were then on the market, none of us had one. The 80286 then on my desk had 125 KB of RAM, a hard drive with 20 MB, and a primitive and virtually useless version of Windows. I worked exclusively from MS\DOS using WordPerfect 5.1 for nearly every purpose. The other editors were no better equipped. We all had begun work in complete innocence of the work of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Nor did we have any conception of the possibilities of digital imaging.

§ 5 To address my ignorance of computer markup languages, I attended the summer 1992 seminar on methods and tools at the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities in Princeton. Taught by Susan Hockey and Willard McCarty, this useful seminar brought literary scholars and librarians together to study the production and manipulation of electronic texts with particular emphasis upon Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) and the TEI. The following summer I became a fellow at IATH. The fellowship proved decisive for the project, since it provided half-time relief from teaching as well as state-of-the-art new equipment—an RS\6000 Unix machine, an 80486 desktop, and an 80386 laptop. In addition, there was funding for a small staff of graduate research assistants and, most important, full-time programming support and advice on all aspects of the project from the IATH staff. With hours of advice and hands-on support from John Price-Wilkin, Thornton Staples, and John Unsworth, we began to reconceptualize the nature of our project, moving from thoughts of an electronic critical edition of the B text to our present plan to create a full text and image archive of the textual tradition of Piers Plowman from the earliest manuscripts through the sixteenth-century printed editions. With the steady advice and assistance of the IATH team, we succeeded in creating an efficient structure for a complex archive that will eventually consist of hypertextually linked documentary editions of every manuscript; edited texts of hyparchetypes and archetypes; critical texts of versions A, B, and C; facsimiles of all witnesses; and an apparatus criticus for each text to include codicological, paleographic, linguistic, lexical, and textual annotations.[3] This new vision of a hypertextual Piers Plowman Electronic Archive was enunciated in my April 1994 Research Report (Duggan 1994/2003).[4] In the same year, I developed with John Price-Wilkin's guidance a Document Type Definition (DTD) and a set of transcriptional protocols for preparing documentary editions.[5]


Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 201 (F)

§ 6 The first task of the PPEA's editors has been to prepare the documentary editions of all of the manuscripts on which archetypal and critical texts must be based. The first two manuscripts undertaken for this purpose were marked by strong contrasts. The first text, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 201 (F), is a marked anomaly in the B textual tradition, and our preparation of its documentary text caused a significant shift in our attitude toward editing manuscript texts. Usually taken to be a maverick witness, the product of scribal revisions at both macro and micro-levels, the F manuscript has convinced editors since the publication of Skeat 1869 that it is so bad that it is useless (Blackman 1918, 502). We, on the other hand, have concluded that the immediate scribe who copied the extant manuscript was careful and that he had represented with unusual conscientiousness his own immediate exemplar, though other hands and intelligences had intervened between the creation of the poem and of this manuscript. Though we could not determine the actual number of hands intervening between the poet and the immediate copyist of F, inferential evidence permitted us to distinguish at least five layers of inscription.[6] The process of creating a documentary edition of F unexpectedly offered an immense complication to our original assumptions about creating the base texts. We had uncovered evidence of a complex textual history and it became apparent that in addition to presenting an accurate transcription of the manuscript's graphs, we also had an obligation to represent those other elements reflecting the textual history of the manuscript.[7] The inferential evidence of textual depth is at least as relevant to the construction of a critical edition of the poem as the actual words that make up this document.

§ 7 Editing F first had unexpected consequences for our plans to provide digital facsimiles of the manuscript. The original plan had been to digitize black-and-white microfilms of the manuscripts. Such copies offered several advantages as a base for digitization. They were already in existence, relatively inexpensive, and the process for making digital images from them was very cheap—if memory serves, about twenty-five cents per opening. The digitized microfilm images were often adequate for making an accurate transcription, though of course the numerous features of the manuscripts in color were lost. Nevertheless, having worked with black-and-white microfilms of manuscripts for some thirty years, such digital images appeared to represent a substantial step forward. Black-and-white microfilm could not, as it turned out, solve the problem of manuscript pages marred by bleed-through. If anything, the high contrast microfilm intensified the problems, and F had several leaves which forced us, early on, to confront this difficulty.[8]

§ 8 Fortunately, in the summer of 1994, I had occasion to discuss these problems with David Cooper, then librarian at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Very generously he offered to make color digital images of the manuscript. The resultant TIFFs were truly remarkable. Running on average at 85-95 MB per leaf, the color facsimile produced the details of the manuscripts with a clarity we had not imagined possible. Eventually, we published JPEG study-quality reductions of those large archival-quality images in our first CD-ROM edition.[9]

Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.15.17 (W)

§ 9 The second volume in the Archive, an edition of Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.15.17 (W) turned out to be a study in contrast. F was eccentric in virtually every respect; W was unusual only in the surprising richness of its textual ornamentation. Turville-Petre's comment in the preface to the edition is worth citing here:

For the first time those who have studied the poem in the editions of Kane Donaldson and A. V. C. Schmidt will be brought face to face with a fact which has far reaching implications. Reading Piers Plowman as a printed text can be hugely misleading. So often students take away with them the notion of Langland as a dissident writer, operating at the margins of society, an idea encouraged by Langland himself, particularly in the C Version, where he portrays himself as a west country exile, perching precariously on London society, supported by a coterie of friends. For a writer of this sort, texts will surely have circulated as samizdat, clandestine writings hastily scribbled by enthusiasts, passed from hand to hand at gatherings of the disaffected? Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and no manuscript gives the lie to it more convincingly than Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.15.17 (Turville-Petre and Duggan 2000).

§ 10 Like several other manuscripts of Piers Plowman, W was a high-class production copied by a London scribe working during the last years of the fourteenth century and the early years of the fifteenth (see Doyle 1986, 39). This scribe was certainly a professional and was presumably attached to a commercial workshop producing texts in response to the expanding demand for vernacular literature in the metropolis. The regularity of his script and language are the result of professional training. In both these features he resembles in detail the scribe who was responsible for the two finest copies of the Canterbury Tales, the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, a copy of Troilus and Criseyde, and participation in the copying of Gower's Confessio Amantis (see Doyle and Parkes 1978; Doyle 1995).

§ 11 That high quality copies of Piers Plowman were being produced by commercial scriptoria and that Langland was being read by the same metropolitan circle of readers as Chaucer and Gower will come as a salutary shock to many students. There is nothing new about the information here presented; since it has not been visually available to most readers, however, they have never fully considered its consequences for our understanding of Piers Plowman and the poem's relation to contemporary society (Turville-Petre and Duggan 2000, Preface).

§ 12 Not every research library was prepared in 1994 to make digital images and, in order to obtain color digital images of W, we ordered 35 mm color slides of the complete text. In this instance Trinity College librarian David J. McKitterick also permitted us to take color slides from the entire manuscript, enabling us to produce a color facsimile of its second booklet, containing Richard Rolle's Form of Living and the lyric Crist made to man a fair present. Such images are of lesser quality than those made directly from digital cameras but, in comparison with any other form of photographic reproduction available at the time, the resultant facsimile editions are highly satisfactory. Since those early days, the PPEA has had full color facsimiles prepared for the following seventeen manuscripts, in only three cases from color slides: La, Pa, C, Cr1, Cr2, F, Hm, Hm2, Ht, L, M, O, R, W, N, P, and X.[10] As we have purchased or been given the color images, the PPEA's editorial team has prepared TEI-conformant SGML transcriptions of all A and B manuscripts, and most of the AC spliced manuscripts. The transcription of C witnesses is under way, including completion of the Ilchester manuscript, Uc, Vc, and X.

§ 13 The process of preparing documentary editions, as indicated by our determination to represent the levels of inscription found in F, has proved to be more fruitful, more difficult, and more time-consuming than we had originally anticipated. Among the Piers Plowman manuscripts the relative transparency of W has turned out to represent the unusual textual situation rather than the norm. I have spoken of the challenges presented by the levels of inscription in F, and Turville-Petre has written in some detail of the evidence for editing and correction of Hm and M during their production (Turville-Petre 2002). The rationale for the extensive programs of erasure and addition/deletion of final e is different in the two manuscripts. In each case the process of adding XML markup more than doubles the size of a plain-text transcription.[11] The effort to provide such details is more than justified, however, because it tells us just that bit more about late medieval book production in London and provides part of a large searchable textbase of the details of scribal practice.


§ 14 It has long been recognized that the Bodleian Library's MS Laud Misc. 581 (L) is the best of the B manuscripts. Skeat (1886) used it as the copy text for his great parallel-text edition of the poem, thinking it likely that it was Langland's autograph.[12] Kane and Donaldson calculated that W, their chosen copy text, has more errors than L, including about 150 more group errors (1988, 214). Still, L's dialect is clearly not Langland's, and both Schmidt (1995a, 1995b) and Kane and Donaldson (1988) adopted W as their copy text. In any case, the general superiority of L's reading came as no surprise to Hanna and me as we worked on the documentary text. Skeat's notion that L was Langland's autograph had long ago been exploded; we were soon able to corroborate the view that the small inked crosses which appear in the margins throughout the manuscript were corrector's marks intended to call the revising scribe's attention to errors in the original text (see Duggan and Hanna 2004, g I.8.ii) What came as something of a surprise was our discovery that in a significant number of such instances, the marginal crosses revealed that the corrector's manuscript was a beta family manuscript inferior to the L scribe's exemplar. The L scribe exhibited better judgment in this respect than did the scribe of M, whose initially correct readings were changed occasionally in the direction of inferior readings from Cr1 W Hm S. On many occasions, the L scribe had the judgment to leave his original reading, rejecting the corrector's suggestions. Though produced well before there is evidence for commercial London workshops for producing vernacular manuscripts, both L and M are clearly the products of a carefully organized group of artisans who had access to more than one copy of Piers Plowman.[13]

§ 15 Documentary editions of manuscripts L and O were published in fall 2004 by Boydell and Brewer for the Medieval Academy of America and the Society for Early English and Norse Electronic Texts (SEENET). Manuscripts Hm, M, and R should be ready for publication early in 2005. Another forty manuscripts have been transcribed and are in various states of readiness, some of them carefully proofread and with textual annotations, others as preliminary transcriptions with only the most basic markup. The texts of manuscripts C Cr1 F G Hm L M O R W have been prepared to serve for electronic collation to provide the basis for editing the B archetype, the putative lost manuscript from which all the extant copies of the B text are descended at some remove. Though it is entirely possible that other B manuscripts not included in our collation may have original readings, these readings are not likely to be the result of direct descent, since, as Adams has demonstrated, the lines of descent among the extant B witnesses are clear. Though the Athlone editors assumed that coincidental variation was so common among the surviving B copies that nothing very reliable or useful could be known about the stemmatic relationships, the real situation is that there is every reason to believe that, whenever these four copies [L M F R] agree in a reading, they are attesting the original text of Bx (Adams 2000, 173).

Future directions: the B archetype

§ 16 In the spring of 2003, John Burrow and I began work constructing the B archetype. Together we constructed a first draft text of the prologue through passus 8 of Bx. Working alone through much of 2004, Burrow completed a first draft of Bx, and I am presently at work with my graduate research assistant John Carlson in proofreading that work and inserting the SGML markup that will enable the display and searchability of the substantive variants. John Burrow in the meantime has continued to work on emending the B archetype to create a first draft of the critical text of B. We conceive this process to be iterative and do not expect that the first—or even the second—draft of the critical text will answer to our desire to reconstitute the closest approximation of which we are capable for Langland's B text. Indeed, though I have written as if editing the B archetype were entirely straightforward, we have at the end of the first round of accumulating and analyzing evidence reached a state of indecision. Not all members of the editorial board are agreed that there is a single B archetypal text to be edited. Though many, indeed most, of the lines missing from alpha and beta witnesses are explicable as the result of mechanical error in copying from the B archetype, some variations between alpha and beta may not readily be accounted for in those terms. It seems probable that the alpha and beta versions reflect different textual states and at this moment the editorial board has not reached agreement on how most effectively to present the evidence or whether, indeed, there is a single B archetypal text to be reconstructed.[14]

Appendix 1: new sigils for the PPEA

§ 17 For the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive we are introducing a list of sigils that departs in some respects from those used since Skeat's editions. Changes have been made to eliminate ambiguities inherent in the older set of sigils which, to a considerable degree, reflects the sequence of discovery of the relationships among them. If we were to use the traditional sigils, we would court ambiguity in an electronic text with identical sigils representing different manuscripts and different sigils identifying single manuscripts. For example, British Library Additional 10574 has no sigil at all for the A text, is Bm for the B text, and L for C. We have chosen to represent each manuscript with a unique sigil.[15]

A manuscripts

  • A Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1468 (S. C. 7004)
  • D Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 323
  • E Dublin, Trinity College, MS 213, D.4.12
  • Ha London, British Library, MS Harley 875 (olim A's H)
  • J New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 818 (the Ingilby manuscript)
  • La London, Lincoln's Inn, MS Hale 150 (olim A's L)
  • Ma London, Society of Antiquaries, MS 687 (olim A's M)
  • Pa Cambridge, Pembroke College, MS 312 C/6 (fragment; olim A's P)
  • Ra Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson Poetry 137 (olim A's R)
  • U Oxford, University College, MS 45
  • V Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. a.1 (the Vernon MS)

B manuscripts

  • C Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.1.17
  • C2 Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ll.4.14
  • Cr1 THE VISION / of Pierce Plowman, now / fyrste imprynted by Roberte / Crowley, dwellyng in Ely / rentes in Holburne (London, 1505 [1550]). STC 19906.
  • Cr2 The vision of / Pierce Plowman, nowe the seconde time imprinted / by Roberte Crowley dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holburne. / Whereunto are added certayne notes and cotations in the / mergyne, geuynge light to the Reader. . . . (London, 1550). STC 19907a.[16]
  • Cr3 The vision of / Pierce Plowman, nowe the seconde tyme imprinted / by Roberte Crowley dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holburne / Whereunto are added certayne notes and cotations in the / mergyne, geuyng light to the Reader. . . . (London, 1550). STC 19907
  • F Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 201
  • G Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Gg.4.31
  • Hm, Hm2 San Marino, Huntington Library, MS 128 (olim Ashburnham 130)
  • Jb Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS James 2, part 1[17]
  • L Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 581 (S. C. 987)
  • M London, British Library, MS Additional 35287
  • O Oxford, Oriel College, MS 79
  • R London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 398; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson Poetry 38 (S. C. 15563)
  • S Tokyo, Toshiyuki Takamiya, MS 23 (olim London, Sion College MS Arc. L.40 2/E)
  • Sb London, British Library, MS Sloane 2578[18]
  • W Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.15.17
  • Wb Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Wood donat. 7[19]
  • Y Cambridge, Newnham College, MS 4 (the Yates Thompson manuscript)

C manuscripts

  • Ac London, University of London Library, MS S.L. V.17 (olim C's A)
  • Ca Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College, MS 669/646, fol. 210
  • Dc Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 104 (olim C's D)
  • Ec Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656 (olim C's E)
  • Fc Cambridge, University Library, MS Ff.5.35 (olim C's F)
  • Gc Cambridge, University Library, MS Dd.3.13 (olim C's G)
  • Hc private collection of Martin Schxyen, Oslo, Norway. olim Cambridge, John Holloway (damaged bifolium; olim C's H)
  • I London, University of London Library, MS S.L. V.88 (the Ilchester manuscript, olim C's I or J)[20]
  • Kc Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 171 (olim C's K)
  • Mc London, British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian B.xvi (olim C's M)
  • Nc London, British Library, MS Harley 2376 (olim C's N)
  • P San Marino, Huntington Library, MS Hm 137 (olim Phillipps 8231)
  • P2 London, British Library, MS Additional 34779 (olim Phillipps 9056)
  • Q Cambridge, University Library, MS Additional 4325
  • Rc London, British Library, MS Royal 18.B.xvii (olim C's R)
  • Sc Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 293 (olim C's S)
  • Uc London, British Library, MS Additional 35137 (olim C's U)
  • Vc Dublin, Trinity College, MS 212, D.4.1 (olim C's V)
  • X San Marino, Huntington Library, MS Hm 143
  • Yc Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 102 (olim C's Y)

AB splice

  • H London, British Library, MS Harley 3954 (olim A's H3 and B's H)

AC Splices

  • Ch Liverpool, University Library, MS F.4.8 (the Chaderton manuscript)
  • H2 London, British Library, MS Harley 6041
  • K Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 145 (olim A's K and C's D2)
  • N Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS 733B (olim A's N and C's N2)[21]
  • T Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.14
  • Wa olim the Duke of Westminster's manuscript (sold at Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1966, lot 233, to Quaritch for a British private collector [Hanna 1993, 39]; its present location is unknown to us. (olim A's W and C's W).
  • Z Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 851[22]

ABC splices

  • Bm London, British Library, MS Additional 10574 (olim B's Bm and C's L)
  • Bo Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 814 (S. C. 2683) (olim B's Bo and C's B)
  • Cot London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.xi (olim B's Cot and C's O)
  • Ht San Marino, Huntington Library, MS Hm114 (olim Phillipps 8252)

Appendix 2: browsers

Early browsers

§ 18 The PPEA published its first two volumes using Multidoc Pro, an SGML browser which has been withdrawn from the market. For the two forthcoming volumes, we will use two browsers. For users with low-end or old equipment, we have created a suite of Cascading Style Sheets enabled by Java scripting and XSLT. We have adopted the initials of its creator Jonathan Rodney and called this browser JR. It has sophisticated display options but suffers at this stage of its development by having only the fairly primitive search engine provided by Internet Explorer. The second browser is called Elwood, named by its creator, Eugene Lyman, to honor the memory of University of Virginia Professor William A. Elwood, whose determined commitment to educational opportunity for young adults of all races brought enduring benefit to the University and its students.

The Elwood browser

§ 19 The following paragraphs on the functionality of the Elwood Viewer were supplied by Lyman, who is a member of the editorial boards of both SEENET and the PPEA:

The Elwood viewer provides a unique and useful mode of document display coupled with powerful analytical tools to enable the interrogation of text, document images, or both in combination. Elwood's visual format provides for close coordination of text and digital image as well as for constant visual cues to indicate a reader's location within a document. It equips readers with sophisticated tools to permit the active examination of a source document's text and imaged representation. Readers can easily enlarge or apply color filters to specific portions of document images without having to toggle between multiple windows or leave the base window of the edited text. They may also conduct complex Boolean searches of the document's text and XML markup using specific words and phrases as well as broadly generalizable regular expressions. The results of these searches are presented as a concordance-on-the-fly in which, among other things, digital images of each line of found text may be displayed beside the text itself. Other, equally powerful features equip Elwood's users with tools that promote full interactive engagement with documents that it presents.
The Elwood viewer requires system capacities found in most computers manufactured since 2002. Although it has run on machines having a clock speed as slow as 700 MHz, a processor speed of 1.2 GHz is the recommended minimum. Elwood's minimum recommended memory requirement is 500 MB—although users who foresee heavy use of its image-handling features would be well-advised to consider running the program on a machine possessing 1 GB of RAM. Elwood must be run with the screen resolution set at 1280 x 1024 pixels. This is a firm prerequisite. Owing to the complexity of its screen presentations, Elwood cannot be scaled down to work on screens having less resolution.
Elwood has been tested primarily on machines running Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. It will not run on Macintosh systems in native mode, although it will run on high-end Macintosh machines hosting Windows emulation software. The Elwood Viewer requires Microsoft's Internet Explorer version 5.5 or higher.

§ 20 For more detailed information on the Elwood Viewer in relation to PPEA, visit Those who wish to learn more about Elwood or its use in projects not suited for publication by SEENET may contact Eugene Lyman at


[1]. Skeat had concluded that Langland was not very particular about his metre. He frequently neglects to observe the strict rules, and evidently considered metre of much less importance than the sense (Skeat 1886, II:lxi). Karl Luick had been equally dismissive, asserting that Langland wrote den schlechtesten Stabreimversen des vierzehten Jahrhunderts (Luick 1889, 430). My own views were rather less severe, but they reflected my conviction that Langland understood alliterative meter differently from other poets. Indeed, I argued that in many respects—certainly in the constraints involving rhythmic, syntactic, and alliterative patterning—Langland was, paradoxically, not an alliterative poet at all (Duggan 1986a, 578 n.27). After our first efforts to establish the B archetype and critical text, I have come to think Skeat (as usual) was correct.

[2]. The original five members of the editorial board have since been joined by John Burrow (Bristol University, Emeritus), Michael Calabrese (California State University in Los Angeles), Eugene Lyman (Boston University), Stephen Shepherd (Southern Methodist University), and Joseph Wittig (University of North Carolina). We have subsequently been joined by a distinguished group of adjunct editors, scholars who have undertaken to provide documentary editions of individual manuscripts. These include Patricia Riles Bart (University of Virginia), who is editing Ht; Karen Bjelland (Independent Scholar), who is editing H2; Bryan Davis (Georgia Southwestern University), who is editing Bo; Carl Grindley (Hostos Community College, CUNY), who is editing Cot; Carter Hailey (William and Mary), who is editing Cr1; Katherine Heinrichs (University of Tennessee in Chattanooga), who has edited O and is editing C2; Judith Jefferson (University of Bristol), who is editing G; Ruth Kennedy (University of London), who is editing La; Jennifer Miller (University of California, Berkeley), who is editing the Duke of Westminster's manuscript; Samuel Overstreet (Maryville College), who is editing Uc; George Russell (University of Melbourne, Emeritus), who is editing N with Lawrence Warner; D. Vance Smith (Princeton University), who is editing the Ilchester manuscript (I); Toshiyuki Takamiya (Keio University), who is editing Takamiya 23; and Warner (University of Adelaide), who with George Russell is editing N. These sigils are those assigned by the PPEA. See Appendix 1, below.

[3]. Our earliest plans were to provide glossaries for each of the documentary editions but we have put that work off until we have established the archetype of B. The notes at each level of the archive are designed to reflect the concerns appropriate to that level. Textual notes for the documentary texts are directed toward determining the intentions of the immediate scribe and of the scribes between him and the archetype.

[4]. The 1994 HTML document has been left as it was written. I am perhaps backward-looking, but the bibliographer in me resists the idea of updating the text, though it no longer adequately represents the goals and structures of the PPEA. Nevertheless, it reflects our position at that time.

[5]. The protocols have gone through several versions (see for the most recent draft)

[6]. For a fuller account, see the section Presentation of text: levels of inscription in Adams et al. 2000. Subsequent work in establishing the B archetype has led us to question how fair the copy used by the scribe of the archetype might have been. (The introduction to the editions of F and W, it is now obvious to the editors, should have had numbered section headings in the introductions for easier reference than the clumsy reference I have just given. That defect will be remedied in the forthcoming texts of the PPEA).

[7]. I spent two fruitless months in the spring of 1996 attempting to find a way to use SGML markup to represent the layers of text intervening between alpha and the immediate text. Eventually I concluded that we could provide only a view of the text as the immediate scribe had written it, and another lightly edited critical view of the text the scribe intended to produce, with slips of the hand and mind corrected and thus, to some degree, at least, the text of the editorial scribe whose work came between the immediate text and alpha. The last goal turned out not to be possible to achieve in detail. See the discussion in Adams et al. 2000: Presentation of text: style sheets.

[8]. See the discussion in Adams et al. 2000, The color facsimile.

[9]. See the fuller discussion in The color facsimile in the introduction to Adams et al. 2000.

[10]. The sigils are those assigned by PPEA and differ slightly from those of the Athlone editions. See Appendix 1, below.

[11]. Ralph Hanna refers to the corrections as an editor's nightmare merely to report (1996, 316 n. 21). The plain ASCII text of MS. M occupies 615 KB, the XML version of the same text some 1,456 KB. A documentary and color facsimile text of M edited by Eliason, Turville-Petre, and Duggan will be published early in 2005 on CD-ROM.

[12]. The argument for L is laid out rather more clearly in Skeat 1869, viii-ix.

[13]. Bart is preparing an electronic documentary edition of Huntington Library, MS Hm 114 (Ht) for her dissertation at the University of Virginia. A highly eccentric melding of various manuscript traditions in A, B, and C versions, this manuscript provides evidence of an editing scribe with access to multiple manuscripts of the poem.

[14]. For something of the range of problems presented in editing Bx, see Adams 2000; Hanna 1996, 215-29; Warner 2002.

[15]. For descriptions of the B manuscripts see Kane and Donaldson 1988, 1-15; Doyle 1986; Benson and Blanchfield 1997.

[16]. Robert Carter Hailey (personal communication) informs us that the Short Title Catalogue designations are confused. Cr2 is actually 19907a and 19907 is Cr3. See also Hailey 2001.

[17]. This manuscript, like Sb and Wb, below, is not described in the above sources. All three are listed in Hanna 1993, 40.

[18]. This manuscript is not described in the above sources, but it is listed in Hanna 1993, 40.

[19]. This manuscript is not described in the above sources, but it is listed in Hanna 1993, 40.

[20]. The sigils I and J have both been used. I is used in Skeat 1886, 2: lxxi; Hanna 1993, 41; and Brewer 1996, 456; J is used by Russell and Kane in their edition of the C text (1997, 6).

[21]. For an argument that the N manuscript represents still another version of the poem, see Warner 2002.

[22]. For the argument that the Z manuscript presents evidence for a fourth, pre-A version of the poem, see Rigg and Brewer 1994. See Kane 1985 for a discussion.

Works cited

Adams, Robert. 1992. Editing Piers Plowman B: the imperative of an intermittently critical edition. Studies in Bibliography 45: 31-68.

───. 2000. Evidence for the stemma of the Piers Plowman B manuscripts. Studies in Bibliography 53: 173-194.

───, Hoyt N. Duggan, Eric Eliason, Ralph Hanna III, John Price-Wilkin, and Thorlac Turville-Petre, eds. 2000. The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, vol. 1: Corpus Christi College, Oxford MS 201 (F). SEENET, series A.1. Ann Arbor: SEENET and University of Michigan Press.

Benson, C. David, and Lynne S. Blanchfield. 1997. The manuscripts of Piers Plowman: the B version. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Blackman, Elsie. 1918. Notes on the B text MSS of Piers Plowman. Journal of English and Germanic Philology 17: 489-545.

Brewer, Charlotte. 1996. Editing Piers Plowman: the evolution of the text. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doyle, A. I. 1986. Remarks on surviving manuscripts of Piers Plowman. In Medieval English religious and ethical literature: essays in honour of George H. Russell, ed. Gregory Kratzmann and James Simpson, 35-48. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

───. 1995. The copyist of the Ellesmere Canterbury Tales. In The Ellesmere Chaucer: essays in interpretation, ed. Martin Stevens and Daniel Woodward, 49-67. San Marino, Cal. and Tokyo.

Doyle, A. I., and M. B. Parkes. 1978. The production of copies of the Canterbury Tales and the Confessio Amantis in the early fifteenth century. In Medieval scribes, manuscripts and libraries: essays presented to N. R. Ker, ed. M. B. Parkes and Andrew G. Watson, 163-210. London: Scolar Press.

Duggan, Hoyt N. 1986a. The shape of the B-verse in Middle English alliterative poetry. Speculum 61: 564-92.

───. 1986b. Alliterative patterning as a basis for emendation in Middle English alliterative poetry. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 8: 73-105.

───. 1987a. The authenticity of the Z text of Piers Plowman: further notes on metrical evidence. Medium Ævum 56: 25-45.

───. 1987b. Notes toward a theory of Langland's meter. Yearbook of Langland Studies 1: 41-70.

───. 1988. Final -e and the rhythmic structure of the B-verse in Middle English alliterative poetry. Modern Philology 86: 119-45.

───. 1990a. Stress assignment in Middle English alliterative poetry. Journal of English and Germanic Philology 89: 309-329.

───. 1990b. Langland's dialect and final -e. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 12: 157-191 .

───. 1994. The role and distribution of -ly adverbs in Middle English alliterative verse. In Loyal letters: studies on mediaeval alliterative poetry and prose, ed. L. A. J. R. Houwen and A. A. MacDonald, 131-154. Groningen: Egbert Forsten.

───. 2000. Extended A-verses in Middle English alliterative poetry. In Medieval English measures: studies in metre and versification, ed. Ruth Kennedy. Parergon n.s. 18, No 1 (July): 53-76

───. 2001. Some aspects of A-verse rhythms in Middle English alliterative poetry. In Speaking images: essays in honor of V. A. Kolve, ed. Charlotte Brewer and Robert Yeager, 479-503. Asheville, N.C.: Pegasus Press.

───. 1994/2003. 1994 Prospectus: archive goals. The Piers Plowman electronic archive.

Duggan, Hoyt N., and Ralph Hanna, eds. 2004. The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, Vol. 4: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 581 (S. C. 987) (L) SEENET, series A.6. Ann Arbor: SEENET and University of Michigan Press.

Duggan, Hoyt N., and Thorlac Turville-Petre, eds. 1989. The wars of Alexander. Early English Text Society, SS 10. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the EETS.

Hailey, Robert Carter. 2001. Giving light to the reader: Robert Crowley's editions of Piers Plowman (1550). Unpublished dissertation, University of Virginia.

Hanna, Ralph. 1993. William Langland. Authors of the Middle Ages, 3. Aldershot, Hants.: Variorum.

───. 1996. Pursuing history: Middle English manuscripts and their texts. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kane, George. 1985. The Z Version of Piers Plowman. Speculum 60: 910-30.

Kane, George, and E. Talbot Donaldson, eds., 1988. Piers Plowman: the B version, Will's visions of Piers Plowman, Do Well, Do Better and Do Best: an edition in the form of Trinity College Cambridge MS B.15.17, corrected and restored from the known evidence, with variant readings, rev. ed. London: Athlone Press.

Luick, Karl. 1889. Die englische Stabreimzeile im XIV., XV. und XVI. Jahrhundert. Anglia 11: 392-443, 553-618.

Rigg, A. G., and Charlotte Brewer. eds. 1983. William Langland. Piers Plowman: the Z version. Studies and Texts 59. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

───. eds. 1994. Piers Plowman: a facsimile of the Z-text of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 851. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Russell, George, and George Kane, eds. 1997. Piers Plowman: the C version: Will's visions of Piers Plowman, Do Well, Do Better and Do Best. an edition in the form of Huntington Library MS HM 143, corrected and restored from the known evidence, with variant readings. London: Athlone Press.

Skeat, W. W., ed. 1886. The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, in three parallel texts. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

───, ed. 1869. The vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman together with Vita de Dowel, Dobet, et Dobest, Secundum Wit and Resoun by William Langland: part II. the Crowley text; or text B, Early English Text Society, OS 38. London.

Schmidt, A. V. C., ed. 1995a. The vision of Piers Plowman. A critical edition of the B-text based on Trinity College Cambridge MS B.15.17. 2nd edition. London: Dent.

───, ed. 1995b. Piers Plowman: a parallel-text edition of the A, B, C and Z versions. London, New York: Longman.

Turville-Petre, Thorlac. 1987. Editing the Wars of Alexander. In Manuscripts and texts: editorial problems in later Middle English literature, ed. Derek Pearsall, 143-60. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer.

───. 2002. Putting it right: the corrections of Huntington Library MS. Hm 128 and BL Additional MS. 35287. Yearbook of Langland Studies 16: 41-65.

Turville-Petre, Thorlac, and Hoyt N. Duggan, eds. 2000. The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, vol. 2: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.15.17 (W). SEENET, series A.2. Ann Arbor: SEENET and University of Michigan Press.

Warner, Lawrence. 2002. The Ur-B Piers Plowman and the earliest production of C and B. Yearbook of Langland Studies 16: 3-39.