Public Piers Plowman

Modern Scholarship and Late Medieval English Culture

By (author) C. David Benson

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 December 2003

Length of book:

304 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271024752

The fourteenth-century alliterative poem Piers Plowman was widely popular in its own day. The number of its surviving manuscripts ranks just below that of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Although the poem has been the subject of some interesting recent critical scholarship, it continues to be marginalized by medievalists and non-medievalists alike. According to C. David Benson, this is because the tendency of modern criticism has been to read Piers as an autobiography mired in the singular intellectual obsessions of its author or as a recondite exploration of theological and political issues. In Public Piers Plowman, Benson returns the poem to the center of late medieval English culture by treating it as a public rather than a personal or elite work. In the process, Benson makes this great poem more accessible, exciting, and necessary to modern readers.

“David Benson tackles the difficult and vital question of Piers Plowman's engagement with its history by getting down to the basics of the text, the circumstances of its production, and the real world from which it emerged. His historical re-envisioning of Piers is exactly what Langland's poem, at this stage in its career, needs. Public Piers Plowman is a major achievement.”

—Derek Pearsall, Harvard University