The first full commentary on Piers Plowman since the
late nineteenth century is inaugurated with the publication of the
first two of its five projected volumes.
The detailed and wide-ranging Penn Commentary places the
allegorical dream-vision of Piers Plowman within the
literary, historical, social, and intellectual contexts of late
medieval England, and within the long history of critical
interpretation of the poem, assessing past scholarship while
offering original materials and insights throughout. The authors'
line-by-line, section by section, and passus by passus commentary
on all three versions of the poem and on the stages of its multiple
revisions reveals new aspects of the poem's meaning while assessing
and summarizing a complex and often divisive scholarly tradition.
The volumes offer an up-to-date, original, and open-ended guide to
a poem whose engagement in its social world is unrivaled in English
literature, and whose literary, religious, and intellectual
accomplishments are uniquely powerful.
The Penn Commentary is designed to be equally useful to
readers of the A, B, or C texts of the poem. It is geared to
readers eager to have detailed experience of Piers Plowman
and other medieval literature, possessing some basic knowledge of
Middle English language and literature, and interested in pondering
further the particularly difficult relationships to both that this
poem possesses. Others, with interest in poetry of all periods,
will find the extended and detailed commentary useful precisely
because it does not seek to avoid the poem's challenges but seeks
instead to provoke thought about its intricacy and poetic
Andrew Galloway's Volume 1 treats the poem's first vision, from the
Prologue through Passus 4, in all three versions, accepting the C
text as the poet's final word but excavating downward through the
earlier B and A texts. Stephen Barney's volume completes the
framework for the commentary, dealing with the final three passûs
of the poem, extant only in the B and C versions. Subsequent
volumes will be the work of Ralph Hanna, Traugott Lawler, and Anne
Overall, The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman marks a new
stage of concentrated yet wide-ranging attention to a text whose
repeated revisions and literary and intellectual complexity make it
both an elusive object of inquiry and a literary work whose
richness has long deserved the capacious and minutely detailed
treatment that only a full commentary can allow. Perhaps no poem in
English appeals more than Piers Plowman to those readers
who understand Yeats's "fascination with things difficult," yet
The Penn Commentary will enable generations of readers to
share in the pleasures and challenges of experiencing, engaging
with, and trying to elucidate the difficulties of one of the
towering achievements of English literature.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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