Piers Plowman

Piers Plowman is a fourteenth-century alliterative poem written by a somewhat mysterious author named William Langland. Mixing elements of social satire and theological inquiry, the poem takes the form of an allegorical dream-vision in which the dreamer searches for the path to an appropriately lived Christian life. The text is divided into passus, or "steps," that emphasize the dreamer’s journey toward the Do-well, Do-better, and finally the Do-best, his ultimate goal.

That more than fifty manuscripts of the poem are extant attests to its popularity, and it is surpassed in number of surviving examples only by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the anonymous Prick of Conscience, an explicitly didactic poem guiding readers to repentance and salvation.

Piers Plowman’s textual history is among the most complex of any Middle English work. Langland created three versions of the poem, each a different length, that are identified by modern scholars as versions A (thought to be from the 1360s), B (1370s), and C (1380s).

Osborn MS fa45: Piers Plowman

Osborn fa45. William Langland, Piers Plowman (C version). England, c. 1400.

Osborn fa45 is a fragmentary copy of the C text from around the year 1400. It was discovered in the mid-1960s when John Holloway, a fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge, replaced the floor in his house, the Old Vicarage in Wickhambrook, Suffolk. The text contained on the fragment is from passus 1, 2, and 3.

Takamiya MS 23: Piers the Plowman

Takamiya MS 23. William Langland, Piers Plowman (B version). England, c. 1550.

Takamiya MS 23, a version of the B text, dates from the middle of the sixteenth century, demonstrating continued interest in Langland’s work during the English Reformation. The scribe of Takamiya MS 23 attempted to modernize Langland’s Middle English to make the text more accessible to early modern readers.

Piers Plowman