Poetic Work and Scribal Labor in Hoccleve and Langland

  • Ethan Knapp
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter isolates the category of scribal labor in the work of William Langland and Thomas Hoccleve and describes the unstable attempts made by each of these poets to forge a metaphorics of scribal labor that would distinguish it from more traditional depictions of agricultural and monastic work.


Pastoral Care Agricultural Labor Century Continuation English Poetry Book Artisan 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Immaterial Labor is a term jointly developed, in the wake of Antonio Negri’s work, by a group associated with the journal Futur Antérieur. The most significant treatments in English include Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labor,” in Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 133–46; Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), esp. pp. 290–94; and Nick Dyer-Whitford, “Empire, Immaterial Labor, the New Combinations, and the Global Worker,” Rethinking Marxism 13.3/4 (2001): 70–80.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For Chaucer, see “House of Fame,” 11. 652–58 and commentary in J. A. Burrow, Medieval Writers and Their Work (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 28–29. For Usk, see The Testament of Love 3.4 and commentary by Paul Strohm, “Politics and Poetics: Usk and Chaucer,” in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380–1530, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 100. For Capgrave, see lines 47–112 of John Capgrave, The Life of St. Katherine, ed. Karen Winstead (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publication, 1999). On Hoccleve, see Ethan Knapp, The Bureaucratic Muse: Thomas Hoccleve and the Literature of Late Medieval England (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For another consideration of these terms, see Jacques Le Goff, “Le travail dans les systèmes de valeur de l’Occident médiéval,” in Le Travail au Moyen Âge, ed. Jacqueline Hamesse and Colette Muraille-Samaran (Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut d’Études Médiévales de l’Université Catholique de Louvain, 1990), pp. 7–21.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See “Preface” to The Problem of Labour in Fourteenth-Century England, ed. James Bothwell, P.J.P. Goldberg, and W.M. Ormrod (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2000), pp. vii–viii.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    On the figuration of the peasant in this period, see the masterful treatment in Paul Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    This passage has occasioned a great deal of recent commentary, most notably perhaps in the essays contained in Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, eds., Written Work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). On the figure of Will as a poetic laborer, see also John Bowers, The Crisis of Will in Piers Plowman (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), pp. 191–218; and Louise M. Bishop, “Hearing God’s Voice: Kind Wit’s Call to Prayer in Piers Plowman,” in The Work of Work: Servitude, Slavery, and Labor in Medieval England, ed. Allen J. Frantzen and Douglas Moffat (Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1994), pp. 191–205.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Citations from the C text of Piers Plowman are drawn from Piers Plowman: The C Version, ed. George Russell and George Kane (London: The Athlone Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    For manuscript variations on line 44, see Russell and Kane, Piers Plowman, p. 289. For commentary from Skeat and Pearsall, see Walter Skeat, ed., The Vision of Piers the Plowman in Three Parallel Texts (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), vol. 2, p. 62 and Derek Pearsall, ed., Piers Plowman by William Langland, an edition of the C text (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 99.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    For a detailed treatment of this manuscript, see Merja Black, “A Scribal Translation of Piers PlowmanMedium Aevum 67 (1998): 257–90.Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    Cited from Charles Blyth, ed., Thomas Hoccleve: The Regiment of Princes (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publication, 1999). The physicality of labor in this scene is also discussed by Nicholas Perkins in Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes: Counsel and Constraint (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2001), pp. 147–150. Particularly interesting is his connection between the body damaged by writing and the Roman veteran displaying his wounds before Caesar.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Beverly Boyd, “Hoccleve’s Miracle of the Virgin,” Texas Studies in English 35 (1956): 116–22; Beverly Boyd, The Middle English Miracles of the Virgin (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1964), pp. 50–55 and 119–22. For the spurious Ploughman’s Tale, see John Bowers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992), pp. 23–32.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Selections from this text will be drawn from Thomas Hoccleve, ‘My Compleinte’ and Other Poems, ed. Roger Ellis (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    J.A. Burrow and A.I. Doyle, eds., Thomas Hoccleve: A Facsimile of the Autograph Verse Manuscripts, EETS s.s. 19 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    On Marleburgh, see John Burrow, Thomas Hoccleve (Aldershot: Variorum, 1994), p. 25; C. Paul Christianson, “A Community of Book Artisans in Chaucer’s London,” Viator 20 (1989): 218; C. Paul Christianson, A Directory of London Stationers and Book Artisans 1300–1500 (New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1990), pp. 131–32; John J. Thompson, “Thomas Hoccleve and Manuscript Culture,” in Nation, Court and Culture: New Essays on Fifteenth-Century English Poetry, ed. Helen Cooney (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001), p. 89; and John J. Thompson, “After Chaucer,” in Derek Pearsall, ed., New Directions in Later Medieval Manuscript Studies: Essays from the 1998 Harvard Conference (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2000) p. 191 n. 3.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    John J. Thompson, “A Poet’s Contact with the Great and the Good: Further Consideration of Thomas Hoccleve’s Texts and Manuscripts,” in Felicity Faddy, ed., Prestige, Authority and Power in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2000), pp. 94–95.Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 310–13. John Bowers, Fifteenth-Century Continuations, p. 24, also points out this anti-Lollard polemic in relation to the spurious Ploughman’s Tale.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kellie Robertson and Michael Uebel 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan Knapp

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations