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October 2, 2020
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v2.1 Reference

Piers Plowman

The A Version

Passionate about trying to create social justice in a time of crisis after the Black Plague, William Langland spent his entire life working on Piers Plowman, an epic study of the human quest for truth, justice, and community. The "A Version," the first and shortest of the three versions he crafted, is wonderfully relatable and completely teachable to a modern student audience. Piers Plowman is becoming ever more relevant to students and scholars in English studies. Perhaps because the poem involves culture, religion, community, and work and engages explicitly with the histories of government and popular revolt, this allegorical tale of a wandering Christian named "Will," searching for truth with the aid of a humble plowman named Piers, has found new critical and pedagogic life in the last 20 years. Currently there are no translations of the A-version of Piers Plowman in print, so readers, scholars and teachers have been longing for an affordable, student-centered translation. The apparatus includes a 30-page historical and critical introduction, footnotes, a bibliography, a note on translation theory and practice, and samplings of the original text in Middle English, with a guide to pronunciation of that language.

Piers Plowman is an extraordinary important document about the issues dramatically relevant to this day. It confronts poverty and inequity in 14th-century England and explores the need for virtue and social justice, encouraging its readers to create equality with open access for people of all classes and abilities. Though a Christian poem, Piers addresses issues of inclusivity, social responsibility and communal duty, as the poem's protagonist wanders about the world, facing injustice and persecution as he looks for truth and salvation. Michael Calabrese, author of An Introduction to Piers Plowman and director of the Chaucer Studio's Middle English recording of the poem, brings Piers Plowman to life for 21st-century students and for all readers interested in the history of society, virtue, faith and salvation.

About the Authors

Michael Calabrese is professor of english, California State University, Los Angeles, and author of An Introduction to Piers Plowman


"Will serve its readers well and fills a need for a readable translation... will also be useful to graduate students and to more general audiences interested in late-medieval English literature."—Mićeál F. Vaughan, University of Washington, Seattle

""This vivid new translation of the A-version of Piers Plowman by experienced Langland editor Michael Calabrese has the potential to unseat The Canterbury Tales as the go-to text for the medieval literature classroom. An introduction informed by Calabrese's own life sets the tone for a relatable read, as do footnotes forged in his east LA classroom. Entertaining and provocative, this rendering of a usually—though not this time—untameable poem is sure to become a quick favorite for its robust characters, fast-paced narrative, and read-aloud sound. Its lasting power, however, will be in the authenticity and fullness of its translation of societal ills and human struggle into a form immediately identifiable to any modern reader. While reading any version of Piers is a worthwhile endeavor, Calabrese's ought to be every student's first. It will undoubtedly guarantee a second."—Jennifer Smith, Pepperdine University

"Michael Calabrese's introduction mediates the poem to a twenty-first-century audience. His translation is accessible and engaging, written in a somewhat casual tone that captures the character of the sleepy Will while maintaining the sense that important matters are being revealed. The retention of some Middle English vocabulary for which there is no modern equivalent is supported by insightful notes that are handily at the foot of the page so as not to interrupt reading with a shuffling back and forth to look for endnotes. Calabrese's choice of the A-text of Piers is highly intelligent. It is brief enough to teach as a whole rather than as the excerpts from texts B and C that normally have to suffice. Hence, Calabrese's work offers the possibility of teaching an integral Piers Plowman in modern English."—Patricia R. Bart, Hillsdale College

"Langland has offered us a truly Catholic consideration of the great struggle that is human existence, one that requires, first and foremost, God's grace, but also our cooperation."—Crisis Magazine

"A hugely entertaining, and inviting, romp through the earliest version of Langland's great Middle English poem. Calabrese's engaging approach will surely lure many students into the world of Piers Plowman, as is his primary, and urgent, intention. There is something very alive here that one will not find in many other places. Calabrese's book is a high point in this rich area of Piers Plowman's history."—The Medieval Review

"Calabrese's translation of Piers Plowman is an admirable addition to the world of Langland's material archive, and one that I think will help students—particularly introductory ones—begin to work thoughtfully and to care about the poem."—Digital Philology

"Piers Plowman is a veritable treasure trove of comments about fundamental ethics and morality at a difficult moment of time, the late fourteenth century the new translation by Calabrese immediately invites one to restart our reading of this monumental text."—Mediaevistik

"In crafting this 'reader-centered' text, Calabrese lays out how the poem is especially illuminating for those interested in 'social justice' and 'the historical treatment of the poor.' This is the kind of proselytizing that Piers needs in order to appeal to twentieth-century readers."—Church History

"As is often remarked among devoted scholar-teachers of Piers Plowman, too few instructors in Middle English studies, to say nothing of medievalists and humanists in general, engage with this searching allegorical dream vision that was written, extended, and revised between approximately 1370 and 1388. To broaden the poems' reader-ship toward increasing their inclusion in secondary and university-level courses, Michael Calabrese has produced a vigorous and often creatively idiomatic translation of the shortest version of the poems."—Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching

9780813233437 : piers-plowman-langland-calabrese-calabrese
Paperback / softback
208 Pages
$34.95 USD

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