This edition of the archetypal B-text (Bx) does not, of course, claim to represent what Langland wrote, and indeed our annotations comment on a number of readings we have preserved that are certainly scribal corruptions. We aim to reconstruct the text of the lost copy from which, we argue, all surviving manuscripts descend. We are unpersuaded by the notion that readings in some of the manuscripts are pre-archetypal, and conclude that such readings have no place in future editions of the B text except as conjectural emendations. We have set out all the material from which our reconstruction is based so that readers can judge our decisions; but we believe that the readings of Bx can usually be determined with confidence. Furthermore we think that its text was much closer to what Langland wrote than recent editors have supposed; that Bx was an unsupervised or a loosely-supervised fair copy of Langland’s foul papers; furthermore that it may have been the copy from which Langland made his C revision and to that extent was sanctioned by the poet.
A great many people have made substantial contributions to this edition, both formally and in informal discussions. Chief among these is Hoyt Duggan, to whom we dedicate this edition. It was his initiative to set up the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, and he has seen through the production of all its diplomatic editions, as joint editor of most of them. We have relied on such editions as were available for the establishment of the archetype. Together with Ralph Hanna (who has always been on hand to offer valuable advice), Dug edited the Laud copy which we have used as our base text. He worked with JAB on a first draft of Bx, and nobly undertook the transformation into XML of the word-processed material of two editors too idle to learn tagging. Together with his team at Charlottesville, Dug developed the internet programs that will be used in future SEENET editions. This task itself posed unexpected difficulties and considerable delays, compounded in this case by the complication of needing to display with the archetypal text the parallel lines from ten manuscripts. In this task Paul Broyles played a leading part, with the able assistance of Chelsea Lambert Skalak and Christine Schott.