“The Greatest Riddle of the B Text” of Piers Plowman: Why Langland did not Scrap The A Vita

  • Denise N. Baker
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Published more than thirty years ago, Elizabeth Kirk’s The Dream Thought of “Piers Plowman” remains the definitive study of William Langland’s revision of the A text and one of the most nuanced interpretations of B. She astutely identifies “the strikingly different artistic strategies and psychological emphases of the A and B versions” as well as “their complementary nature.“1 The most obvious difference between these two texts, of course, is that B substantially expands the second part of the poem. “The greatest riddle of the B text,” Kirk remarks, “is why its poet did not scrap the A Vita.” Instead, as she demonstrates, Langland “constructjs] a series of scenes to resolve the specific problems that were blocking the Dreamer’s progress and to explain the process by which the writing of the poem was abandoned and resumed.” Kirk analyzes these drastic revisions beginning with Clergy’s speech to show how “what was recalcitrant fact in A receives the fully defined and developed truth of art.“2


Bryn Mawr Moral Guide Medieval Literature Rational Soul Artistic Strategy 
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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Denise N. Baker

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