John Burrow has recently argued that a program of rubrics recorded in many manuscripts of Piers Plowman is organic to this poem in its B version. In this article I demonstrate that a manuscript rubric known to Burrow but omitted from his stemmatic reconstruction supplies further support for it: the rubrication scheme reconstructable on the basis of attestations in one of the two manuscript families explains the existence of a lone anomalous rubric in a manuscript of the second main family. The implication is that the full rubrication scheme was present in the common ancestor of both families. This is a small point, but it has important implications for our understanding of the internal organization, textual transmission, and versional development of Langland’s poem.
The anomalous rubric at the center of my argument figures prominently in Lawrence Warner’s 2011 book Lost History of ‘Piers Plowman’; there it is offered as firm evidence that the B archetype was contaminated from a C version manuscript. The account I offer is incompatible with Warner’s and is intended to replace it. I conclude by elaborating the implications of this position. The final two passus of the poem (B XIX-XX) are integral to the currents of biblical and ecclesiastical history begun in passus XVI; this great narrative arc reaches its apogee not in the vision of Christ’s Crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell (both passus XVIII), but about three hundred lines into passus XIX, when the primitive Church begins to spread the faith “as wyde as þe worlde is.” The archetypal rubrics identify the final passus of the poem as the only full passus de dobest, and this is as it should be: it is part of the Langland’s tragic vision of history that there is no passus secundus de dobest.
The full article is available here via EBSCOhost.