Michael Calabrese

title.none: Dean, ed., Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger (Michael Calabrese)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.020 01.09.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Calabrese, California State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Dean, James, ed. Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger. TEAMS: The Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000. Pp. vii, 169. ISBN: 1-580-44068-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.20

Dean, James, ed. Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothsegger. TEAMS: The Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000. Pp. vii, 169. ISBN: 1-580-44068-1.

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University

All the TEAMS editions provide authoritative texts of important and sometimes hard to get medieval works, expertly introduced, edited and glossed by major scholars. The series has revolutionized teaching and scholarship by making visible and accessible works that we might consider less than canonical and what the TEAMS editors call "adjacent to that normally in print" (see this volume's back cover), i.e. not Chaucer, Langland or the Gawain Poet. A fraction of the cost of EETS offerings and generally more recent in their creation (very few TEAMS volumes are over 100 years old), these editions allow teachers to expand their syllabi and broaden their depiction of what constitutes medieval literature and culture, while scholars have ready access to important political, legal, and religious documents that deepen their critical treatment of other, perhaps more canonical, texts. Just such a fine volume in the series is James M. Dean's Richard the Redeless (RtR) and Mum and the Sothsegger (Mum), the first poem edited from a photocopy from Cambridge University Library checked against Paul Szarmach's transcription and the second (I believe it's implied) directly edited from the manuscript.

The edition includes a chronological table covering the major events in political and social history, a historical introduction to the period and to the circumstances of each poem (insofar as they can ever be understood), and a textual introduction, including a discussion of prior editions and explanations of editorial policy. The presentation of the texts of the poems is clear and readable and includes various types of glosses for both new and seasoned readers of Midlands alliterative poetry in the style of Will's Vision Concerning Piers the Plowman, the master text from which these poem in some ways descend. In the margins Dean provides glosses of tough words, and at the bottom of the page and in the notes at the back of each poem he offers translations of difficult passages, some new, some conjectural, and some based on the pioneering work of prior editors, Skeat, Day and Steele in the EETS, and Barr in her volume entitled The Piers Plowman Tradition. Dean regularly and appreciatively brings into his text the best and most helpful work that went into these previous editions. The notes are always lean, clear, and helpful, for there is much matter in these poems, textual, syntactical, and literary, that invites modern gloss. Central to the history of editing these poems is their relation to one another. The EETS edition argues that the poems are two fragments of the same work. Neither Barr nor Dean believe that, and Dean wisely cautions that though poems are related by dialect and by general subject (political counsel and corruption of truth), and though they may have been associated in the bibliographical mind of Tudor historian John Bale, they are not therefore part of the same poem. As Dean puts it: "There may be a connection between [the poems], but there may not be". (78)

The fuller textual and explanatory notes at the end of each poem are seldom referenced in the text itself, since there are no footnote numbers, which means that one must do a lot of flipping and must guess when to flip. A good bet would be about every 5 lines, since both are full of references and allegories now obscure but clearly part of the political landscape of the time. RtR poses particular problems since many of the major players in Richard's fateful monarchy are associated with emblematic flora and fauna. Dean expertly explicates all the imagery so that the historian and scholar can understand the tensions, dramas, and personal hostilities that marked Richard's downfall. But reading the longer notes breaks up the narrative flow, and since these poems, with Piers as their master, both feature odd digressions and follow thinly logical principles (we move from a beekeeper to Genghis Khan without apology in Mum, for example), these longer notes are almost better read straight through as part of the introductory material, for flipping back and forth breaks up what coherence the poems do have. (The episodic Mum, driven by a series of visits and inquiries in search of the truth about truth- tellers, is actually far easier to follow than the densely allusive RtR.)

Looking at the volume as a whole, we might argue that this is not just a classroom text but a critical edition because of the thorough thoughtfulness of the editing. But it also reads and appears like a "workbook" begging to be scribbled in and marked up. Yet this leads to a question: is the volume designed for students or for scholars? The notes contain such basic commentary as at RtR I, l. 60. (the poet's offer to his readers to "make it [his work] more better"), where Dean tells us that "the humility trope is common in late fourteenth-century poetry as the author presents his work for amendment or correction". (51) The same student who needs to be informed of this is not the same reader who wants to know at RtR I, 2 "lyverey" that "the first y is written over an e, here and in most other instances of the word (II.26, 57, 60, 79, 93, 104; II. 182, 330). So too the y in by (II.83 and III.41) and brymme (II.80). Sk, D& S, B, and Sz all read e, as in levere, be, and bremme, all of which instances are suited to the dialect...." (54-5) This is a good note, and I'm interested in it, having my own fits of passion with such matters in the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, where we chase such erasures and overwrites with UV light and magnifying glass. But the mix of advanced scholarly notes on textual matters with basic undergraduate background information makes the volume a bit of a hybrid. Perhaps this is its strength: historians not in English departments can use it to study the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV; literature students and scholars can gain insight into the relationship between politics and poetry (something not always apparent in Chaucer for instance); and editors can examine the textual and paleographical issues since all that relevant information is well researched, explained and glossed. Further, even though some notes are not appropriate for undergraduates, one can certainly use the textual notes to bring home to students the historical and physical reality of our texts, something not readily apparent in very clean and sanitized editions/translations. For example in RtR III, 254- 55 Dean reads "Thanne wolde reule, if reson where amongis us,/ That ich leode lokide what longid to his age", rejecting the addition of a subject "right dome" by Sk, D& S, and B. Dean sees 255 as the subject of "woulde ruele" obtaining, as I understand it, something like: "if reason were among us, the practice of each person attending to what pertains to his own age would guide us". In any case, whether one accepts the manuscript reading or not, the notes can potentially involve all readers, undergraduates too, into the process of editing, understanding and establishing meaning from manuscript to modern printed edition. A little backstage drama manifests the material history of the book, something increasingly more important in the medievalist's scholarly and pedagogical arsenal.

In regard to the glosses more specifically, the notes at the foot of the page unfortunately do not provide sources for the Latin quotations, which would have been helpful so that the reader can assimilate a bit of St. Gregory or Cato and then move on without flipping, but Dean (wisely) wants to keep the page itself readable and clean, so the quotations are glossed fully in the notes, often with useful references to modern editions in which they can be found, such as a Middle English Translation of Cato, the Speculum Christiani, and poems of political complaint related to the Piers Plowman tradition. The notes also often refer to specific chapters and pages of critical studies seminal to an understanding of the religious or historical events at hand, such as Penn Szittya's Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature, among many others.

In contrast to Barr's edition, Dean's volume, because of the absence of the antifraternal "Piers Plowman's Crede" is less a Piers Plowman "tradition" volume and more a study of politics and the mirror for princes, though Dean faithfully identifies echoes and source material from Langland. Textually, both Dean and Barr claim that theirs is a conservative edition, choosing the manuscript reading wherever possible; Dean lists his manuscript readings that others had emended (14-15) and appears to have intervened less than prior editors. In Mum, Dean explains his occasional use of the correctors marks in the manuscript which he employs critically, taking the uncorrected reading as long as sense obtains. Dean retains for example "yblent" (blinded) while prior editors had, upon historical grounds that burning was more probable than blinding and based on a corrector's note, emended to "y brent" (burned). Dean sticks with "yblent" arguing that "historical circumstances may not govern word choice here" (see Dean's discussion of this and other test cases on p. 79).

Barr describes her volume as a "critical edition"; the TEAMS editions do not bill themselves that way. Dean's bibliography, for example, is thinner than Barr's by half and makes no claim to comprehensiveness, though it contains many important primary and secondary works. Can one cite this volume in published work instead of the EETS or Barr? I don't know and in this review would like to pose that question. TEAMS never legislates an audience; they leave that up to teachers to determine. But because of the seriousness of the volume, in regard to audience I consider the text as more useful for advanced graduate students and scholars than for undergraduates, who shouldn't fight through these texts and issues until Piers and all the other major works are under their belts. I myself would sooner teach all four poems of the Gawain MS. and Piers A, B, and C before attending to these compelling yet adjacent texts. I can only hope that this query helps us both to appreciate the level of professionalism that went into the composition of this volume and also to consider the status of such editions in our own teaching and work.

All in all, this book provides detailed paleographic, textual, editorial, historical, and critical information about two important poems and brings to the student and scholar a window on fourteenth and early fifteenth century politics and poetry. The advantage of reading Dean's edition must lie in part in the presentation on the page itself; the TEAMS page, as I say, is wide, and white, and ready for glossing, while the finely edited Everyman page is cramped and visually uncomfortable. If the poems at hand deliver more direct political address and less poetry than Langland does, then one can see the difference between great and lesser art, between imaginative poetry and poetic political satire. But serious students of the later English Middle ages need to experience these texts, and Dean, as he has done before for TEAMS, delivers them fully, with complete intellectual rigor, due attention to prior editorial efforts, and an overall commitment to the integrity of the texts and to his expert treatment of them.