'In a summer season when soft was the sun': Piers Plowman on display

Folio 4 recto of SL V/17, showing the beginning of the second passus of Piers Plowman
Folio 4 recto of SL V/17, showing the beginning of the second passus of Piers Plowman

For two more weeks there is a rare opportunity to see a Senate House Library treasure in the flesh: one of our manuscripts of William Langland's Piers Plowman is currently on loan to the National Poetry Library for their exhibition, A Fair Field Full of Folk, celebrating the poem.

The manuscript is an early fifteenth century version of the C text, the final version of the poem. It was once part of a larger compilation with texts of Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne and Mandeville’s Travels, known as the Clopton manuscript. A shield on the opening of the manuscript of Handlyng Synne, now in the Folger Library, bears the arms of Sir William Clopton of Quinton, Gloucestershire (d. 1419) and his wife Joan Besford, suggesting they were the first owners. The volume was brought by bookdealers W.H. Robinson in 1937 from the Giffford Family of Chillington Park, Staffordshire and was split into three parts and sold.  The manuscript of Piers Plowman (SL V/17), which includes two shorter poems, was purchased by Sir Louis Sterling, and was donated to the Library in 1956 as part of the Sterling Library. It is one of two Piers Plowman manuscripts in the collection, alongside the Ilchester Manuscript (S.L. V/88).

The exhibition explores the context and legacy of the poem, and also features two new commissions from artists Larry Achiampong, a video installation, Sunday Best (Reprise), and Nicola Jedrzejczak, a paper sculpture panorama of Langland’s Fair Feeld Ful of Folk.  It is co-curated with Penned In the Margins, who are also producing two live performances of Piers Plowman at the Ledbury Poetry festival and Malvern Hills on 30 June-1 July and Shoreditch Town Hall 7-8 July.

The exhibition runs until the 9th of July and more information can be found at thisfairfield.com.