My article, “Prophetic Piers Plowman: New Sixteenth-Century Excerpts,” appears in Review of English Studies. This article grew out of archival work on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century manuscripts of English political prophecy. I discovered two previously unrecognized excerpts from Piers Plowman while searching for something else entirely (an alliterative prophecy, which I did find).
In recent decades, a slew of textual discoveries has prompted a reconsideration of the sixteenth-century transmission and reception of Piers Plowman. Research on this topic began in 1989 with Sharon Jansen’s discovery of Piers Plowman excerpts in London, British Library, Sloane 2578 (mid sixteenth century) and has accelerated in recent years, refocusing questions of literary history, textual tradition, and the genres of Piers Plowman. A key conclusion of this new scholarship is that Langland’s poem circulated as political prophecy in manuscript and print in the sixteenth century. This article registers a new entry in the sixteenth-century archive of Langlandiana: two freestanding excerpts, each combining the same two passages from Piers Plowman B, in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson C.813 (mid sixteenth century). The Rawlinson Piers Plowman excerpts, I argue, add incrementally to the case for a prophetic Piers Plowman in the sixteenth century and also indicate a richer codicological, generic, and metrical context for this period in the poem’s reception history. I begin by providing diplomatic texts of the excerpts and placing them in the context of Rawlinson C.813, the genre of political prophecy, and the alliterative tradition. I then argue through comparison and close reading that the prophetic Piers Plowman of the sixteenth century points up an underappreciated aspect of Langland’s poetic practice.