Calabrese, Introduction to “Piers Plowman”

My review of Michael Calabrese, An Introduction to “Piers Plowman” (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016), will appear 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. […]

Did Chaucer write Chaucers Wordes unto Adam?

My note, “Adam Scriveyn and Chaucer’s Metrical Practice,” appears in Medium Ævum. Here’s the opening:

In a recent article in this journal, A. S. G. Edwards casts doubt on the traditional attribution of Chaucers Wordes unto Adam, His Owne Scriveyn to Geoffrey Chaucer. Edwards begins by questioning the reliability of John Shirley’s attribution of the poem to Chaucer in the unique surviving manuscript copy, Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.20 (second quarter of fifteenth c.). He then mobilizes generic, lexical, and thematic evidence indicating that Adam Scriveyn (I will use this short title) was composed not by Chaucer but by ‘a person with overall responsibility for overseeing the writing of a manuscript or manuscripts of Chaucer’s works’, in whose voice, Edwards argues, the poem is most comfortably read. The present note supplements the case against Chaucerian authorship of Adam Scriveyn with metrical evidence.

Adam Scriveyn is composed in the English pentameter, the accentual-syllabic metre that Chaucer invented and popularized. It comprises a single stanza of rhyme royal (rhyming ababbcc), one of the stanza forms invented by Chaucer. […]

An oxymoron in Beowulf

My note, “An Oxymoron in Beowulf,” appears in ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. This note identifies an oxymoron in the description of Beowulf’s final showdown with the dragon. Here’s the text of the passage in question and the opening frame of the note:

ðær he þy fyrste     forman dogore
wealdan moste     swa him wyrd ne gescraf
hreð æt hilde

                        (Beowulf 2573-75a)

In commentary on this difficult passage, scholars have focused on the syntactical function of the two ambiguous adverb/conjunctions ðær “there; where” and swa “thus; as” and the two adverbial phrases þy fyrste “on that occasion” and forman dogore “for/on the first day/time.” In order to make sense of the passage, many critics give ðær the uncommon meaning “if,” and some construe swa as introducing a relative clause, a difficult interpretation that lacks clear support elsewhere in the corpus. Some scholars also take forman dogore instrumentally with wealdan, thereby spoiling the evident syntactical parallelism between þy fyrste and forman dogore.

Yet the primary difficulty is surely that wealdan means just the opposite of what narrative context seems to require here: “rule,” not “succumb.” […]