Calabrese, Introduction to “Piers Plowman”

My review of Michael Calabrese, An Introduction to “Piers Plowman” (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), appears in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Here’s the opening of the review:

The alliterative poem Piers Plowman survives in three distinct versions (‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’), composed in the 1370s and 1380s by one William Langland. The A version consists of a prologue and eleven ‘passūs’ or sections; B extends A to twenty passūs; and C reorganizes B into twenty-two passūs. The B text has received the most attention from literary scholars and is most often taught to students. James Simpson’s Piers Plowman: An Introduction (Exeter, 1990; rev. ed. 2007) and Emily Steiner’s Reading “Piers Plowman” (Cambridge, 2013) both focus on B, with glances at A and C.

The book under review is the first introduction to devote equal attention to all three versions. Michael Calabrese presents an integrated, passus-by-passus summary of Piers Plowman A, B, and C in twenty-four short sections (“Narrative Reading Guide”). Exposition begins from the earliest version for each passus, with generous discussion of insertions, deletions, and revisions in later versions. Surrounding the reading guide is a variety of supplemental material: a preface advocating the study of Piers Plowman in contemporary America; a chronology of significant people and events; essays on Langland’s biography and political contexts (“Life of the Poet”) and the relationship between Piers Plowman and other canonical medieval literature (“Langland and His Contemporaries”); an appendix listing characters or actants in the poem (“Persons, Personifications, and Allegorizings in Piers Plowman”); an appendix introducing Middle English pronunciation and alliterative meter (“Pronunciation Guide: Reading Piers Plowman Aloud”); and a partially annotated bibliography.

The preface makes a strong case for the urgency of Piers Plowman in the twenty-first century. […]

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