Michael Calabrese

title.none: Ellis, 'My Compleinte' (Michael Calabrese )

identifier.other: baj9928.0209.042 02.09.42

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Calabrese , California State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Hoccleve, Thomas. Ellis, Roger, ed. 'My Compleinte' and Other Poems. Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 2001. Pp. x, 293. $25.95 $79.95 0-85989-700-1. ISBN: 0-85989-701-x.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.09.42

Hoccleve, Thomas. Ellis, Roger, ed. 'My Compleinte' and Other Poems. Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 2001. Pp. x, 293. $25.95 $79.95 0-85989-700-1. ISBN: 0-85989-701-x.

Reviewed by:

Michael Calabrese
California State University

Thomas Hoccleve, as the head note to this new edition of his poetry (exclusive of the Regiment of Princes) indicates, is one of the most "neglected figures" of late Middle English (1). One of the first non-readers of Hoccleve appears to have been his imaginary friend in the "Dialogue" (part 2 of the "Series") who chastises Thomas for his antifeminism in "L'epistre de Cupide," (an adaptation of Christine de Pizan's poem). Hoccleve replies to the charge with something like "but that's not really what it says. . . did you actually read it?" No, answers the interlocutor, "for neuere it yit I say." "No friend?" asks Hoccleve. "No Thomas," he replies. Well, read it, says Hoccleve, all of it to the end, and then you'll know what I said: "Wel trowe I, in fay, / For had yee red it fully to the ende. / Yee wolde seyn it is nat as yee wende" (Series: 2, A Dialogue, 781-84). Hoccleve may have understood that he was the kind of author who might be more talked about, or read in "selections," as it were, than actually studied and understood. However, quite recent textual and critical work is changing the landscape: John Burrow's edition of part of the "Series" in EETS, Ethan Knapp's The Bureaucratic Muse, Charles Blyth's edition of the Regiment of Princes in TEAMS, an article by Lee Patterson in the most recent SAC (23, 2001), just to mention a few manifestations.

Ellis's volume, in contrast to Burrow's very efficient, focused, parallel edition of holographs and edited versions of two sections of the series, attempts to do much more and for a much wider audience. "In so restricting its field of vision," writes Ellis, "Burrow's work cannot give beginning readers any very clear or easy sense of the scope or significance of the whole work" (7). (The editorial and critical work of Burrow, by the way, is treated with constant reference and profound respect throughout Ellis's text.) Ellis thus edits the entire Series plus selected "complaints "and other occasional verses, giving a fuller picture of the poet and his varied works, both personal and religious.

Like the TEAMS volumes of Middle English authors, this handsome Exeter text is not designed for a EETS audience. But because of its comprehensiveness in addressing the manuscript tradition, it can and will be used by scholars interested in the textual matters in the poems here presented, which survive not only in scribal copies but in most cases in MSS written in Hoccleve's own hand. Oddly enough the holograph readings are not absolutely "original," for they were made by the poet years after initial composition. So since they apparently were edited by the poet and also susceptible to scribal error no matter who the scribe was, they can be superseded or at least questioned by the collective force of the non-holograph MSS. (*H). The dramatic intermix of these textual authorities is rare and compelling, and Ellis spends much time and energy getting the reader involved in his selection process and the variants involved in editing, though he always uses the holograph as the base and emends only "where necessary" (49). He also brings into the mix the source texts of the translated works, exploring in his notes Hoccleve's process as an adapter and translator of source material both linguistically and thematically. But Ellis is not free with his emendations and is "happiest to use the evidence of the non-holograph manuscripts to establish an earlier version of the text only when they agree unanimously against the holograph version and with the source in respect of significant detail" (17). The notes to the poems also inform us about marginal glosses, rubrics, instances of scribal intervention or confusion, and any other aspects of transmission that constitute what we otherwise call "Hoccleve." As Ellis states, "we attend to the total manuscript situation of both Hoccleve's source texts and translations in order to speak with certainly about the poetry of Hoccleve" (12). "The medieval text," writes Ellis, "is always, in the fullest sense possible, work in progress," and it "exists as a point of reference in an evolving field which includes medieval, and modern, writers and readers" (2,3). The wealth of detail noticed and reported on by Ellis is absolutely staggering.

Because the edition emphasizes the flow and interplay of various points of textual authority, Ellis fears it may be a little tedious to wade through all the 40 big pages of prolegomena, so he invites readers to "turn over the leaf" and skip the discussion of textual matters. But then he adds, "I would urge them not to" (2). Those not interested in the textual drama will soon be, because it is an exciting, important and revealing story (or an infinite series of micro-stories) about the processes of literary and textual influence and transmission.

The days of silent or invisible editing of Middle English texts seem over. Not even in undergraduate study are we content with presenting texts without pulling up the back curtain to reveal the material history of transmission. Manuscript work and textual archaeology, made more available and viable through CD-ROM editions and digital facsimiles, have became the standard for all research, starting at the graduate level. Thus, while the layout and presentation of the poems here are designed for undergraduate classroom use (and up), the volume also provides the kind of "Kane-Donaldson" apparatus: lists of variants, discursive explanations of collation, etc., in the notes and appendixes, to be employed in the classroom at the teacher's discretion. The volume wants to be useful for any reader at any level who wants/needs to read Hoccleve.

The dual if not multifaceted function of the volume creates potential problems. The plentiful information is sometimes scattered and diffusely presented. There are no textual notes at the bottom of the page, in contrast, for example, to an edition like Schmidt's Piers Plowman. Rather, textual observations, along with cultural, literary, and syntactical observations, are made in the endnotes after each poem. Several appendices supplement these notes with lists of variants, glosses, and additional MS evidence, and textual issues are discussed for each poem in the ten-part introduction. Each work ends with a bibliographical gloss and explanatory summary of the work's genre and sources. The reader can thus be overwhelmed by the spread of information in these various sections and has to do a lot of flipping and mental collating to gather all the observations about a particular text. The presentation of the textual notes, specifically, is unorthodox, with variants given interlinearly (an excerpt is given below). It would have been better to have the notes at the foot of the page.

But what is on the page are glosses of difficult words, designed, like the glosses in the Riverside Chaucer for example, for undergraduate reading. This is the benefit and the problem of the edition. It is serious work, offered by a committed textual scholar who has investigated all the complex issues of authority and transmission, but the presentation is unfriendly for scholarly purposes, because of the scattered spread of information. Likewise, a college senior will have to be guided carefully through and around all the daunting apparatus. The same student who needs to know that "hot and ful feruent" means "hot and burning" (180) or would like to have confirmed a Chaucerian echo s/he may have heard in one of Hoccleve's verses is not the same reader who wants/needs to know that the "scribe of T found these lines odd enough to emend the male pronominal reference to female" in L'epistre de Cupide." Or is s/he? Perhaps the benefit of the edition is that it can get issues of editing into the classroom, allowing us (once the students can read, pronounce and appreciate the poems as literature) to talk about the relationship between author, scribe, editor, and reader throughout history. In a poem about antifeminism based on a work of Christine of Pizan, it can be very important that the scribe of T changed the pronouns to make what he though was ideological sense out of the statements about women he was commissioned to copy. No one is going to buy and teach the EETS edition in an undergraduate classroom, survey or seminar class. But Ellis's edition can be used effectively, with care, for these audiences.

To this end the pages are oversized and the font is lovely and large. Middle English yogh and thorn are preserved, as is "u" for "v." If sifted carefully by reader and teacher, the introductory material and notes are accessible and informative, and the overall tone, with such features as a restrained but pointed reference to Monty Python, has a bit of Tabard Inn to it, which works effectively to welcome student readers. Ellis seems to want to bridge the gap between the stolid scholarly edition and the modern classroom reader.

One can chase down many dramas and mysteries with profit. But one also has to be careful. I became interested in the textual commentary sown occasionally through the notes to "L'epistre de Cupide" in which we find the apostrophic lines about female evil. "Who may rehersen al / The tresoun that they haue doon and shal? / Who may hir hy malice conprehende? / Nat the world, clerkes sayn, it hath noon ende" (200-204 p. 99). The syntactical ambiguity here might make one look for a footnote and for textual variants; accordingly, in the endnotes we find: "The non-holograph MSS offer a reading which might have been Hoccleve's original; at all events, it preserves an ambiguity in the referent of the pronoun "it" (203) -- the world? women? -- slightly better than the version in the holograph" (p. 110). This sentence is confusing, and like the lines themselves is ambiguous in the word "it." The "it" that preserves the ambiguity surely must be the holograph version presented in the text, but then how can the holograph preserve something slightly better than the holograph? Ellis must have meant "non-holograph" at the end of his note, unless I have missed something. To see what this less ambiguous *H reading is you have to flip to Appendix 5 on p. 280, "selected variants from the non-holograph manuscript copies of the texts here edited." Even this set of selected variants begins with a bibliographical note, repeating in truncated form the note introducing the notes at the end of the text. Concerning 202-03 we read: "202-03 *H the world (T worde) their malice (B2 adds it) may not comprehend, as (S2 and) that the (F thise, D1D3 om., Ba om that the) clerks say, (Ba adds for) it hath no end." After a little work, this kind of notation can be followed, and it is clear that *H obviates the ambiguity of the lines in the holograph, confirming our friendly emendation of Ellis's confusing note. Just for good measure I checked the holograph itself at the Huntington to confirm H2's wonderfully ambiguous reading which Ellis, preferring the lectio difficilior, preserves. Even skipping my stage of checking of the MS, which was only a factor of personal geography, this is all too much legwork to consolidate the textual information about these lines. The textual notes and observations should be discrete from the literary commentary; instead it is all offered in a grab-bag, with no note numbers in the text itself. In these ways the apparatus, designed to be out of the way of student reading, can actually add a bit of chaos and clutter to one's experience of the book. I found myself reading the notes separately and straight through, needing then to go back over the text to try to collate the notes with passages I had queried or been struck by.

Despite the need for flipping and collating, in most every occasion, I found useful and provocative information in the notes. For example, I quickly got confused as to who is speaking in the "ars vtillissima," and around line 130 I flipped to the notes in search of help and found there the comforting news that the lines were "in Suso [Suso's Horologium Sapientiae, the source text] possibly spoken by the young man rather than by death. Hoccleve follows Suso in making capital out of the difficulty of distinguishing the speakers from one another...but, since "lore" characterizes all these voices...confusion as to their identity does not greatly affect the overall meaning of the work" (228). The tone and posture here might seem a bit familiar (so are Skeat's), but that can be useful when the material is as diverse and complicated as it is in Hoccleve's texts, and at his best Ellis is a friendly tour guide who knows every detail and the whole history of the place we are visiting -- just the kind of figure needed to ensure both "sentence and solas."

The critical introduction, furthermore, offers some provocative assessments of Hoccleve as a man and poet, as Ellis argues that the "Series" as a whole dramatizes the reintegration into the community of the writer-as-solitary" (33). Ellis, contrasting Hoccleve to Chaucer, sees the former's style, specifically his use of repetition of turns of phrase, his use of dialogue, and his innovative wit, as betraying a "sense of personal insecurity and isolation: One might almost see in the solitude of the Hoccleve narrator a precursor of the narrators of Surrey's poems and Shakespeare's sonnets, and a figure who can speak very directly to our own uncertain and privatized age" (41).

All in all, textual scholars may be frustrated by the scattered presentation of variants and the absence of a conventional apparatus. There are too many bells and whistles, too many separate sections, introductions, prefaces and postscripts. Some greater form of unity of presentation, however hard to imagine and create, was needed. However, any scholar and teacher will also be happy that the information is here, for it allows us to bring into the classroom data about the complex and unique history of textual transformation for Hoccleve's works, a real "behind the scenes" look at medieval authorship and composition. The plentitude of information comes from an urge to do something bold, new, and important, and the benefits of all this information far outweigh the problems of an occasionally cluttered presentation. One thing is certain, the reader will know Hoccleve well as poet, translator, and scribe after reading this edition cover to cover, all the way through, as Hoccleve long ago exhorted us to do. Ellis's edition, bursting at the seams with historical, textual, and critical detail, a feast of both matter and art, will doubtlessly be a major factor in the renaissance of Hoccleve studies.

Because I have focused on the quantity of information spread throughout the volume, it will be helpful to produce here as an addendum an outline of the book's contents:

Note to the reader, explaining the form and function of the notes to the texts


Sigla of MSS. and other abbreviations

A ten-part introduction, with such subtitles as "On Hoccleve's Scribes," "The Holographs versus the other copies in the case of the Gesta narratives," "Ordinatio in the holograph and non-holograph copies of the Series," and "Towards an interpretation of the Series"

Editorial Principles [includes information on past editions and collations and the role and scope of the present work]

A note on Hoccleve's language

Texts themselves, with right margin glosses of difficult words, each followed by a bibliographical head note and endnotes on literary and textual matters, as follows:

Minor verse: conpleynte paramont; Cy ensuyt la male regle de T. Hoccleue; Cestes balade et chanceon ensuyantes feurent faites a mon meistre H. Somer, quant il estoit souztresorer; Ceste balade ensuyante feust translatee au commandement de mon meistre Robert Chichele; Item de beata Virgine; L'epistre de Cupide

The series: My compleinte; Here endith my compleynt and begynneth a dialogue; Fabula de quadam imperatrice Romana; Ars vtillissima sciendi mori; fabula de quadam muliere mala.

Appendices, each with a discursive introduction to what is presented and why, with reference to MSS groupings of the non-holograph copies, where applicable,:

1. The stanzas added to the "Conpleynte paramount" in the Middle English "Pilgrimage of the Soul"

2A. A comparison of the version of Hoccleve's first Gesta narrative with selected Latin and Middle English analogues

2B. The source of Hoccleve's "Balade. . . translatee au commandement de. . . Robert Chichele"

3. The glosses to Ars vtillissima sciendi mori in S and D

4. Additional notes on the textual relations of the non-holograph copies of the "Conpleynte paramount", "L'epistre de Cupide" and the "Series"

5. Selected variants from the non-holograph manuscript copies of the texts here edited

Bibliography: Editions of texts or selections; Secondary literature