Selected Articles

This essay was originally written for presentation at the meeting of the New Chaucer Society at the Sorbonne in July of 1998. At the time, I thought it would probably be my farewell contribution to medieval studies, and indeed it turned out to be exactly that when I retired from academic life in May of 2000, the point at which I officially bid farewell to scholarly research and writing in favor of fulltime dedication to writing poetry and translating it, after having devoted my entire university-centered life to a career that accommodated and, at times, combined both commitments. It was a practical choice, not an existential one, for in one way or another I have never been, nor will be, anything more or less than a poet, scholar, and teacher. Thus, after I was well into a new life in a new city and writing poems and translating some from The Greek Anthology as well as some Cavafy, I was asked to contribute a piece to a festschrift in honor of the distinguished medievalist Robert W. Hanning, one of my oldest and best of friends. I jumped at the opportunity to offer the still unpublished "Chaucer and Langland, A Fellowship of Makers" to the editors of the book entitled Reading Medieval Culture to which the University of Notre Dame Press gave light in 2005, for it allowed me the triple pleasure of honoring a man whose fellowship I had enjoyed for many years, of providing my scholarly "swan-song" with a place in print for its final performance, and of avoiding the need to provide another contribution, which I surely would have done had it been necessary. This is the first appearance in print of the poem by Wild Bill Langland I supposedly translated for presentation as a coda to the reading of my paper at the conference in Paris.


George D. Economou

Reproduced with permission from University of Notre Dame Press.

If John Matthews Manly's theory of multiple authorship of Piers Plowman,1 the single most dominant issue since its assertion at the beginning of this century to possess the field of that poem's study, had prevailed, it would not only have radically altered our ways of addressing the poem(s), it also would have enabled us to link it in an unexpected way with what seems to be sizing up as one of the foremost issues to challenge the field in recent years: the double-barreled proposition that William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer knew each other's work and possibly one another personally. Chaucer, whose reading of Dante inspired him to insinuate himself into a company of five ancient poets in the envoi to Troilus and Criseyede (V. 1786-92),2 whose sense of self-irony enabled him to associate himself with the five churls portrayed last in the Canterbury Tales' General Prologue (I. 542-44), and whose subtle, sometimes teasing stance towards his audience led him to ask them to fill in the blank space—perhaps with his name— of the Wife of Bath's awaited, welcome sixth husband (III. 45), could then, by virtue of an autonomous reader's act, have been joined to Manly's putative five authors of Piers Plowman to constitute still one more set of significant sixes.

Responsibility for this hypothetical act of linkage to what is a very real series of critical observations must be mine, of course, and I would temper its obvious playfulness by explaining that it is also offered as an expression of confidence in the ongoing energy and ingenuity of today's medieval English studies, particularly the concentration on Chaucer and Langland. So intensely focused is the present convergence of scholarly activity on coupling the two poets, I think I could talk myself into risking the prediction that even if Manly's theory of multiple authors of Piers Plowman had ruled the day, we would still be trying, despite the considerably different conditions, to read them and Chaucer in closer comparative terms than ever before, still be trying to figure out their relationship, not only as we see it but also through the ways they themselves and their contemporaries and near contemporaries saw it. But that is a complication that the question of Chaucer's and Langland's fellowship, demanding and exciting enough as we now have it with the fairly stable standing of Manly's "mythical author of all these poems,"3 need not reckon with at any great length for the moment—not, that is, until the newly mutating advocates of a more-than-one author theory out there among us, "shope" for the time being perhaps in the same "shroudes" as the rest of us, re-emerge. That this is not merely a bit of Piers Plowman paranoia can be seen from the recent revival of arguments for a change from the ABC order of the versions of the poem.4 The proposal that A was composed last as a kind of condensation or abridgement of B in the spirit of the Readers' Digest—is there any major poet in the language other than Langland about whom such a suggestion would be made?—even when offered with a strong claim for Langland's having written it, necessarily leaves the door open to the possibility of another redactor. But then we have always co-existed and worked under such conditions: Piers Plowman waters have never been still, though they have always run deep.

So, referring to Chaucer and Langland in terms of a fellowship may suggest several different things, given the wide range of the word's meanings in Modern as well as in Middle English. They could be fellows in the sense of being contemporaries, or by virtue of sharing a common interest, or by being companions, part of a company or society, or complementary individuals of a pair, counterparts or a kind of match. These, I believe, cover the present variety of perspectives on the relationship between Chaucer and Langland as poets and persons, though I would coin the word "followship" to describe the exclusively one-way direction the case for literary influence has taken, from Langland to Chaucer. The intensity of the pursuit to demonstrate that reading, if not knowing, Langland had what has been called a "massive" effect on Chaucer may be measured by the application lately of terms like "nervous" and "anxious," which have usually been reserved for Langland, in analyses of Chaucer's sense of his writing ambitions and performance.5 The implication that Chaucer's misgivings about his Canterbury Tales enterprise fall just short of "full-blown Langlandian neurosis" demonstrates how extensive the interaction between them has been perceived to be.6 Add to the contemplation of the possibility of shared texts, shared scribes, and shared readers, a shared existential condition: the fellowship of artistic angst, with a new refrain, "Timor makyng conturbat me."

By representing their fellowship as one of makers, I merely wish to stress its priority over all other considerations of how they and what they made can be connected. Both Chaucer and Langland used the words "make" and "making" to refer to their own writing and compositions, and both would have recognized its bond, despite the notable differences in their craft and art. Though each of them in the course of his career tried to stretch the idea of making into something superior, Langland by striving for identity as one of God's minstrels and Chaucer by reaching for standing among the poets of Europe,7 they both might have taken some comfort in knowing, if they could have, that in Greek poet is maker as man and as creator just as it is in English. God the Father in the Nicene Creed is Pietín ouranóu kai yis, Maker of heaven and earth. The word, it turns out, was always worthy of their best efforts.

What Chaucer and Langland made, that is, the authorial materials most of us take on an act of faith as having essentially survived their manuscript transmission in the form of a series of assiduously though, at times, contentiously edited texts from the late nineteenth-century to this very day, has always presented us with grounds for the discernment of fascinating and telling resemblances as well as pronounced differences between them, and even for some limited speculation about their having known each other's makings. But recent scholarship and criticism has been much more insistent about the probability of a Chaucer-Langland interaction. For example, the assumption that Chaucer had to have been aware of the invocation of Piers Plowman, the figure, as an ally by John Ball and others involved in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 is just a small step away from the further assumption that Chaucer had to have read the poem, a conviction that owes as much, however, to textual interpretation as it does to the application of historical evidence.8 The comparative study of the Piers Plowman Prologue and the Canterbury Tales General Prologue has long been the bell-wether of Chaucer-Langland literary relations, but for the last two or three decades the argument for that relationship's being contingent upon some form of poetic or personal exchange has been building. Several eminent medievalists, using a variety of approaches, have suggested, proposed, or unequivocally declared that Chaucer read Langland's Prologue (and more of the poem in some cases) and was directly influenced by it in writing his own General Prologue and, possibly, in shaping the rest of his poem.9 The combined effect of these studies of the two poems has been the gradual construction of a compelling, virtually unquestioned, case for Chaucer's having been inspired by Langland. There is not one shred of "hard evidence" that this actually occurred, yet the mounting conviction behind the critical inference that it did occur makes it increasingly difficult to convince or even to suggest that it did not.

This is not necessarily an undesirable state of affairs, for it recommends, as directly as possible, the likelihood that such a literary transaction did take place, though the supposition that that transaction actually happened is, to use one of George Kane's favorite words in his essay on autobiographical fallacy in Chaucer and Langland studies, unverifiable.10 Still, it demonstrates the primacy and power of the critical, interpretive approach as it functions in concert with bibliographical and historical information. The critical approach to Chaucer and Langland connections, however, cannot avoid inheriting the enormously complex, almost murky, textual history of Piers Plowman, a manuscript tradition that is far more problematic and vexing than that of any of Chaucer's poems or, for that matter, of any other poem of the English Middle Ages. Unlike Piers who, in the famous scene unique to the B version (7. 115), tears the problematic pardon "for pure tene,"11 itself a major example of the countless authorial revisions that mingle with the ineluctable parade of scribal variants that attend the poem's manuscript transmission, the critic cannot escape confronting the palimpsest-like nature of the piece of paper that has been put into her hand. To complicate things even more, the contents of that piece of paper include not just the authorial/scribal aggregate poem but also all efforts to sort it out. In other words, wherever critical interpretation leads on the fellowship of Chaucer and Langland, it cannot avoid the mediation of on-going bibliographical bulletins; its steps into new pastures will always be dogged or herded, so to speak, by concomitant movements concerning their poems'—mainly Langland's—provenance and dispersal. For example, a recent authoritative argument that Chaucer based his General Prologue on Langland's Prologue specifies, following the conventional ordering and dating of the traditional three versions and taking into account the version known as the Z-text as well, that it was the A version of Piers Plowman that Chaucer had read.12 In just a few years, a relatively short period in the time-scheme of scholarly criticism, two proposals concerning the order and circulation of A have been made that might present some significant, though I suspect not insurmountable, problems for this case.13 The previously mentioned theory that A was the final revision of the poem along with a more recent argument that what we regard as A derived from a draft in-progress that circulated in Langland's immediate group of readers and was then generally released, perhaps as long as a decade, later than B, would have to be taken into account if the presumption that Chaucer read Langland in the A version during the 1370s is indispensable to the comparative interpretation of the two prologues. Certainly, if this latter explanation of A's transmission is correct, Chaucer could still have read A as a member of that inner London group. But even this possibility reassures us that the critic's dance must always keep in step with that of the textual scholar. It also announces a new approach in our consideration of this fellowship of makers.

Would it be fair to refer to the very latest turn that Chaucer-Langland studies has taken as avant-garde? If by avant-garde we mean—I slap down the impulse to say "cutting edge"— the vanguard, what is out front, a pointing towards a redefinition of the configuration and order of an artistic movement or, as in this instance, of an intellectual enterprise, then the current, rapidly growing interest in exploring questions of scribal connections, audience, patronage, book-ownership, and reading circles as they might pertain to a conjunction of Chaucer and Langland clearly qualifies. As an effort to draft a new context in which to view the production, dissemination, and intertexuality of later fourteenth-century poetry in its own day and during the following century, this direction raises the possibility of many new elements to be added to the equation. From the possibilities that certain scribes made copies of both The Canterbury Tales and Piers Plowman, that Langland himself might have been a scrivener with close ties to bureaucratic, legal London, to the chance that the imitations of Langland's poem came out of a social group of readers and writers that included Chaucer, this approach seeks to tie together speculations, suspicions, and educated guesses about a rich body of historical and bibliographical evidence. In the midst of this diversity of explorations is the central and unifying notion of a special group of individuals with a strong common interest in poetry, a group that at some time or other and perhaps at the same time Chaucer and Langland called home.14 Since "coterie" is the term that is used almost exclusively by those who are writing about this subject, I shall have to put aside my aversion for this word, which, despite its etymological suitability to the consideration of a poem with a peasant hero, connotes an exclusivity I find hard to take, probably because of my experience of it as a deliberately elitist (unintentionally effetist) term in the other world of contemporary poetry.

That the theory of a late fourteenth-century coterie is still in an early, formative state may be seen not only from the frequency of conditional verbs in its discourse but also from the appropriately cautious and tentative expression of its primary concern by two of its most effective advocates:

We still do not know enough about the early London transmission of Piers (and we know even less about its Dublin readers), but even what we have presented here shows that it was not so utterly removed from the Continental urbanity of Chaucer's metropolitan readership as it sometimes has been thought. Indeed the two poets seem generally to have shared a readership— shared it with each other, and with Gower and (later) Hoccleve, and with all those scribes who propagated and sometimes elaborated their texts.15

Given our collective's track record on anything even approaching unanimty, closure on a definition and depiction of this coterie that would achieve general acceptance may be a very long term, if not an illusory, goal. There are numerous uncertainties that cling tenaciously to a representation of this coterie. For example, what is the incidental effect on it of the complicated matter of the presumed expansion of Langland's audience just before 1381? Did a coterie audience, once it had dilated to include the rebel leaders and their following—became, in other words, a vernacular literary public—then contract or reform, after the rebellion was suppressed, to one to which Langland could address his exculpatory revisions and deletions in C, the most prominent of which is, of course, the cutting of the tearing of Truth's pardon. Or did it just continue, basically unaffected by the expansion? And what are the implications of the suppostion that the rebels, who use the phrase "do welle and bettre" and call upon Piers, not the poem, unless by synecdoche, knew the work imperfectly or depended on second-hand oral accounts of it—did not, in other words, constitute a truly new literary public? Or what is to be inferred from the fact that most manuscripts of C strongly reflect the dialectal properties of southwestern Worcestershire, including Malvern: that Langland left London and returned to his "opeland" (C 5. 44) home to begin C? Or that he stayed and kept on re-making where he was—supposedly in Cornhill—because of the strong possibility that scribal practice in London tolerated and accommodated provincial language?16 Despite the likelihood that these and other questions relevant to the idea of a London coterie in which Chaucer and Langland occupy prime positions will be taken up in ways that will be better and best, one wonders what the chances are for consensus in an often divided, not just diverse, field of scholars, two of whose leading figures can simultaneously aver that medieval scribes should be regarded as our first literary critics and that we would be in bad shape indeed if we relied on scribes for any kind of literary insight.17

Like all avant-gardes, which are inevitably absorbed into the present,18 this one, its layers of scholarly difficulties notwithstanding, is being comfortably drawn into the prior Chaucer-Langland movement. The concept of the coterie, no matter where it may take us in the future, has become for the moment yet one more type of "evidence" to be marshalled in behalf of the a priori likelihood that Chaucer had read Langland. From Kane to Cooper, from Bennett to Pearsall to Kirby-Fulton, almost all of us can agree about this one thing, and, whatever our individual interpretations of the form and magnitude of its consequences, it seems we don't just assume but that we believe this happened.

It is no surprise that we believe more deeply, as we ought to, in the literary interaction than in the personal one, no matter how appealingly and imaginatively the latter has been described, with Chaucer headed home in the evening to Aldgate, perhaps with a copy of Piers Plowman under his arm,19 whose author he was bound to meet if he hadn't already. The parallels between the two prologues, especially the assertions that Chaucer's Parson and Plowman are based on Langland, have been noted for some time and recently re-enforced. Chaucer's line in the Parson's portrait, "And shame it is, if a prest take keep,/ A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe" (I. 503-4), has been attractively described as "a virtuoso compassing of Langlandian style and vocabularly."20 Still, I would ask that this reception be considered as well in the context of Chaucer's general use of alliterating phrases and particularly the heavily alliterative passage in the fourth part of The Knight's Tale, epitomized by the line, "Ther shyveren shaftes upon sheeldes thikke" (I. 2605). Though Chaucer may well have had Langland in mind when he wrote the line for the Parson's portrait, he may also have had other alliterative poems in mind. Either way, Chaucer meets "the genre-specific" demands of their verse form in these passages in a manner that is at best a cut below, even as first-rate decasyllabic parody, of Langland's "sophisticated modulation" of alliteration and meter.21 Chaucer's choice of the Plowman as chief representative of the peasantry and his positive treatment of him as the Parson's brother has been traced to Langland, and more recently a persuasive claim has been made for Langland's originality in bringing about a significant shift in the conception of the ideal and central figure of the Christian hero from shepherd to plowman.22 If it is true that Chaucer's portrayal of the Plowman was impossible without Langland's innovative creation of Piers, it also strikes me as true that this is one of the most unusual instances of Chaucer's literary appropriation. Considering the powerful role that Piers plays in Langland's poem—here I suppose knowing which version (or versions?) Chaucer might have read would be especially helpful—Chaucer's use of his source material, a process generally acknowledged to be highly creative in its own right, is in this case notably restrained, even uncharacteristically uncreative. Perhaps the proximity and recognition factor of the unnamed poet-source, unlike Boccaccio, contributed to what might have been an uncomfortable situation for Chaucer as he worked on The Canterbury Tales, a possibilty about which speculation, as mentioned earlier, has already begun.

At the same time, the exploration of similarities and possible indebtednesses has extended beyond the General Prologue to other parts of The Canterbury Tales and to other poems as well. Prominent among these are two examples, both of them inspired by the intensifying interest in the opening 104 lines of Piers Plowman C 5, the extremely important waking episode between the first and second visions commonly referred to as "the autobiographical passage" or the "poet's apologia."23 Because this interlude, which is unique to the C version, constitutes one of Langland's most significant revisions and involves a self-examination of his activity as a maker as well as an assessment of the merits of what he has spent his life making, it has been profitably compared with the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women and with Chaucer's Retractions. Due to its having two distinct versions, the Prologue to the Legend offers a singular opportunity to study Chaucer's otherwise rather unclear and critically controversial revising process, which invites comparison with the more substantial information we have acquired about Langland's revising; moreover, the Prologue contains a defense of Chaucer's making, which provides further grounds for juxtaposing it with the C 5 apologia.24 Though the C 5 passage and the Retractions have been viewed for some time as comparable in various ways, criticism of late has reflected an urgency for a more searching reading of them. The possibility that this waking episode was the last addition Langland made to his life-long poem has strengthened the conviction that the apologia and the Retractions should be regarded as close counterparts.25

If the C 5 passage represents the last lines that Langland made for his Piers, there is also a good chance that the last lines of verse that Chaucer ever made as he closed out The Canterbury Tales show that he might have—must have?—had Langland in mind. The last line of The Parson's Prologue according to the manuscripts, if not most of the editions we use, in which the Host invites the Parson to tell his "meditacioun," resonates richly with Piers Plowman: "And to do wel God sende yow his grace!" (X 72). Noting the "do well," compare the last line of Langland's BC versions, "And sethe he [Conscience] gradde aftur Grace tyl y gan awake" (C 22. 386), and try to resist the urge to allege a connection, whether the Chaucerian line arrives in the ultimate or in the antepenultimate position at the end of the Parson's Prologue.26 I will not speculate here on how the question of the order of the last lines of poetry in Chaucer's work may reflect the games that scribes and editors play, nor on future games that critics, including myself, may play. Instead, in closing, I would like to turn to the couplet, some thirty lines above this ending, in which the Parson makes his famous southern man's disclaimer, "I kan nat geeste 'rum, ram, ruf,' by lettre," a line that, despite its illustrating that Chaucer retained his humorous edge to the end, has been often overplayed as evidence of his disdain for Langland's choice of verse form. But let's not emulate Lady Meed's decontextualization of scripture at the end of BC 3 and fail to read on, "Ne, God woot, rym holde I but litel bettre; " (X 43-4). Let's not overlook that it is the Parson speaking, and that in holding both our makers' kinds of versifying in low esteem he seconds the skeptical attitudes towards Will's making of Imaginative in B 12 and Reason and Conscience in C 5. Could it be that Chaucer, retaining a last indirect word through the judgment of the Parson, has anticipated us all by reserving a place for himself and Langland in the special and, alas, sometimes suspect fellowship of makers?

*This essay is a revised version of a paper given at the Eleventh International Congress of the New Chaucer Society at the Sorbonne, Paris, July 19, 1998.


1. J. M. Manly, "Piers Plowman and its sequence." The Cambridge History of English Literature, 2: The End of the Middle Ages, ed. Sir A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1963) 1-42.

2. All quotations from and references to the works of Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed., ed. Larry D. Benson et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).

3. Manly, "Piers Plowman and its sequence," 1.

4. See Jill Mann, "The Power of the Alphabet: A Reassessment of the Relation between the A and the B Versions of Piers Plowman," Yearbook of Langland Studies (hereafter cited as YLS) 8 (1994), 21-50. For responses to Mann's proposal, see Traugott Lawler, "A Reply to Jill Mann, Reaffirming the Traditional Relation between the A and B Versions of Piers Plowman," YLS 10 (1996), 145-80; and George Kane, "An Open Letter to Jill Mann about the Sequence of the Versions of Piers Plowman," YLS 13 (1999), 7-33.

5. See David Wallace, Chaucer's Polity: Absolutist lineages and associational forms in England and Italy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 249; and Steven Justice, Writing and Rebellion, England in 1381 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) 239 and 239 n142, where the author writes, "Anne Middleton is preparing work on the importance of Langland in redirecting, and, finally stalling, the Canterbury Tales." This arresting sentence exemplifies the virtually unqualified acceptance of the notion that Chaucer read Langland which prevails at this time, and also nicely illustrates the position that Chaucer had to have paid a heavy artistic price for that reading, But, perhaps even more provocatively, the presentation of this statement as documentary support for a critical position typically suggests that the scholars who promote the theory of a "coterie" of late fourteenth-century writers, which will be discussed later, run the risk of becoming a "coterie" of sorts themselves.

6. Wallace, Chaucer's Polity, 81.

7. Much has been written on this subject. My own view of Langland's artistic self-consciousness may be found in "Self-Consciousness of Poetic Activity in Dante and Langland," Vernacular Poetics in the Middle Ages, Studies in Medieval Culture 16, ed. Lois Ebin (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1984) 187-98. Helen Cooper has recently discussed Chaucer's "self-consciousness" of his poetic mission in "Four Last Things in Dante and Chaucer," New Medieval Literatures (hereafter cited as NML) 3 (1999), 59-60.

8. See Helen Cooper, "Langland's and Chaucer's Prologues," YLS 1 (1987), 73-74.

9. See Nevill Coghill, "Chaucer's Debt to Langland," Medium Aevum 4 (1935), 89-94; J. A. W. Bennett, "Chaucer's Contemporary," Piers Plowman: Critical Approaches, ed. S. S. Hussey (London: Methuen, 1969), 310-24; Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 208-12; Cooper, "Langland's and Chaucer's Prologues," 71-81; George Kane, Chaucer and Langland, Historical and Textual Approaches (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 121-33, especially 128; and Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer ( Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992), 98, 184. Speculation about the Chaucer and Langland fellowship has yielded some beguiling and graphic images of the poets, especially of Chaucer, as in Bennett's well-known depiction of him heading home to Aldgate with copies of Macrobius and Piers Plowman under his arm (322), but none so curious as Pearsall's representation of a London scene in which "one can imagine that street corners frequented by William Langland might well have seen some excitement" (162). The projection of Langland out of his poetic voice into an embodiment of it on a fourteenth-century London version of a Hyde Park Speakers' Corner (perhaps in the vicinity of Paul's Cross?)—if that is the kind of excitement Pearsall has in mind—comes as something of a surprise from one who has reproved Donald Howard for the "speculative grammar" of his biography of Chaucer (2). On Paul's Cross as a point of homiletic and forensic activity, see D. W. Robertson, Jr. Chaucer's London (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1968), 29, 68, 111, 179, 189, 198, 218. Oddly, Robertson mentions the poem Piers Plowman five times in this book (189, 191, 192, 193, 205) but never names its maker, which may help explain why he can say, "London was a city in which everyone knew everyone else; the impersonal atmosphere of our large metropolitan centers and the faceless masses that inhabit them had not yet come into being." (52), without the possibility of a Chaucer and Langland encounter there crossing his mind. If this, in its modest way, does not illustrate the transformation of literary historicist thinking during the last three decades, it certainly indicates that Robertson never lived in a great city for a significant period of time.

10. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies, The R. W. Chambers Memorial Lecture (London: University College, 1965); reprinted in Chaucer and Langland, 1-14.

11. This quotation and further references to B are from Piers Plowman: The B Version—Will's Visions of Piers Plowman, Do-Well, Do-Better, and Do-Best, ed. George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson (London: Athlone Press and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). Quotations and references to the C Version are from Piers Plowman by William Langland: An Edition of the C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1994).

12. Cooper, "Langland's and Chaucer's Prologues," 71-81.

13. Mann, "The Power of the Alphabet," 21-50; and Ralph Hanna III. Pursuing History, Middle English Manuscripts and Their Texts (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 203-43; Hanna rejects Mann's argument for a BCA order, 230-32. Also see, A. I. Doyle, "Remarks on Surviving Manuscripts of Piers Plowman," Medieval English Religious and Ethical Literature: Essays in Honour of G. H. Russell, ed. Gregory Kratzmann and James Simpson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1986), 35-48.

14. See Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, "Langland and the Bibliographic Ego," Written Work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship, ed. Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 110-122.

15. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Steven Justice, "Langlandian Reading Circles and the Civil Service in London and Dublin, 1380-1427, NML 1 (1997), 83. For further information on this subject, see Kathryn Kerby-Fulton and Denise L. Despres, Iconography and the Professional Reader: The Politics of Book Production in the Douce Piers Plowman (Minneapolis: University of Minnestota Press, 1999); and the spirited "Review Article and Response" between Ralph Hanna, III, "Piers Plowman and the Radically Chic" and the authors, "Fabricating Failure: The Professional Reader as Textual Terrorist," YLS 13 (1999), 179-206.

16. See M. L. Samuels, "Langland's Dialect," Medium Aevum 54 (1985), 232-47, and "Dialect and Grammar," A Companion to Piers Plowman, ed. John Alford (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 201-21, especially 207-08.

17. See Derek Pearsall, "Editing Medieval Texts: Some Developments and Some Problems," Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 103; and George Kane, Chaucer and Langland, 208, respectively.

18. See Frederick R. Karl, Modern and Modernism, The Sovereignty of the Artist, 1885-1925 (New York: Atheneum, 1988), 13-14.

19. See above, note 9, Bennett.

20. Justice, Writing and Rebellion, 239 n142.

21. Kane, Chaucer and Langland, 84 and 77-89.

22. See Christopher Dyer, "Piers Plowman and Plowmen: A Historical Perspective," YLS 10 (1994), 155-76.

23. All of the essays in Written Work explore the significance of this passage. Also see Kane, Chaucer and Langland, 121-33, especially130-32; and most recently, David C. Fowler, "Piers Plowman: Will's 'Apologia pro vita sua'," YLS 13 (1999), 35-47.

24. See, for example, Hanna, Pursuing History, 240-41; Kerby-Fulton, "Langland and the Bibliographic Ego," 80; and Pearsall, The Life of Chaucer, 192.

25. See Anne Middleton, "Acts of Vagrancy: The C Version 'Autobiography' and the Statute of 1388," Written Work, 213.

26. See the textual note on X. 73-74 in The Riverside Chaucer, 1134.

Wild Bill's Last Millenial Prophetic Riddle
The X-Text
edited by Mulder & Scully

In a summer season I set forth for Paris,

under cover of a loller for Lollius I searched,

for that maker of Troilus and Tales of Canterbury,

for centuries had passed since I last saw him,

when meddling with our makings many good times we had. 5

My friend Geoffrey, the round poet-popet, I refer to,

who wrapped himself in robes as if he were Roman,

while I held to my habit of appearing as a hermit.

What a pair we were, working the London scene,

tall poet and small poet, putting on our act 10

from the Customs House to Cornhill we covered it all,

he earnest in game, me earnest in earnest—

though I could jangle a joke, too,

as on the night I billed us as "John But & Geoff"—

while poor Kit and Philippa just kept complaining, though they never met. 15

Vitium poetae aut tollendum aut ferendum est.

So I sauntered to the Sorbonne where his Society was meeting—

I've nothing to yearn for, I've a Yearbook of my own—

and tried to sit through a session but sleep overtook me.

Then I dreamed a dream, the devil's work it must have been,

in which I was menaced by a meyne, from Manly to Mann, 20

who at first cheered, "Chaucer! Chaucer! Chaucer!"

and then whooped, "What have you done with Will?"

When that man named Manly marched up to my face

and threw high his five fingers as if flinging a curse,

I twisted and turned until I felt free, 25

but another burst forth, "Yeah, Bah for all their books!

I am Kane, your chief keeper, you couldn't do worse

than to let me lead you through this land of lunatic scholars!"

But I eluded him, too, and leaping left and right,

I confronted a figure, a more fatherly freke I couldn't imagine. 30

On his cheeks cleaved muttonchops, white as the clouds,

his eyes were so keen and contagious his laughter,

as before him four maidens fought for his mien.

"That's my old friend Donaldson and his Four Daughters,"

one called Kaske whispered in my ear, "they'll contend 35

till he stops them, then they'll start again in a year."

Then Donaldson addressed me with dignity and a wink,

"Don't worry, Will, they all mean well whatever they mean;

in so doing seek meed for themselves, but mercede for you two."

With that as I awoke, a last weak cry I heard, "What about Z?" 40

"Chaucer lives and so do I," I heard myself say in the midst of that session.

Yet I wonder if they heeded me, for they had me heaved out

for blatant misbehavior and lacking a badge.

Signa? Non nulla necesse signa foetida habemus!

I would have warned these workmen not to waver

in their loyal listening for love of our making. 45

For Hyperintertextive hurries this way waxing with pathways,

and under the sign of a system, Aldgate by name,

Piers will ride up at Boghtoun under Blee

and the Pardoner pop up in Passus Twenty-Two.

What that MF maintains will madden their minds 50

unless they strain to stay true and stand up for who's speaking.

Translation by George Economou


15a. A line from Varro's Menippean Satires in which the word "poetae" has been substituted for "uxoris."

43a. The most famous and now commonplace line from the great twentieth-century morality film The Treasure of Sierra Madre. "Badges? We don' need no stinkin' badges!" The bandito leader's response to the request by the character played by Humphrey Bogart for proof that he and his compadres are, as he has alleged, Federales.