03.02.33, O'Farrell-Tate, Abridged English Metrical Brut

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Tim Jones

The Medieval Review baj9928.0302.033


O'Farrell-Tate, Una, ed.. The Abridged English Metrical Brut: British Library MS Royal 12 C. XII. Middle English Texts, Vol. 32. Heidelberg: Universitaetsverlag C. Winter, 2002. Pp. 142. ISBN: 3-8253-1290-9.

Reviewed by:
Tim Jones
Augustana College

The Abridged English Metrical Brut (AEMB) edited by Una O'Farrell-Tate is the 1,037 line Middle English chronicle of English kings from Brutus to Edward II found in British Library Ms. Royal 12.c.xii. This chronicle survives in quite different forms in seven manuscripts, five with complete texts (Royal 12.c.xii (R); National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS 19 2 1; BL Addit. MS 19677; Cambridge University Library MS Dd.14.2; Cambridge University Library MS Ff.5.48) and two fragmentary ones (Bodleian Library MS Rawl. Poet 145; BL MS Cotton Caligula A.xi). Ewald Zettl published a critical edition of the text for EETS (An Anonymous Short English Metrical Chronicle, EETS OS 196 [1935]), but chose the BL Additional manuscript as his base text, publishing short variants at the bottom of the page and lengthy variants in appendices. The poem in the Royal manuscript was previously edited by Joseph Ritson and revised by Edmund Goldsmid (Ancient English Metrical Romances, 3 vols. [Edinburgh, 1884]), but the text has many inaccuracies.

In contrast to these previous editions, O'Farrell-Tate's provides an accurate and coherent text of the Royal Ms. poem. Moreover, this new edition takes into account the scholarly work of the last thirty years on the Ludlow scribe who copied the Royal manuscript and BL Harley MSS 2253 and 273, recent thought on the relationship of history and romance, and studies of the development of vernacular literature in the fourteenth century. Zettl placed the composition of the original AEMB in southern Warwickshire on lingustic grounds and postulated two branches, one represented solely by the Royal text and the other by the remaining manuscripts. In her introduction O'Farrell-Tate gives brief descriptions of all the manuscripts and a detailed discussion of the Royal manuscript. Among her conclusions is that the largely French manuscript context of the Royal AEMB supports the thesis that the poem is a translation of a French original. Zettl included in his edition the French text from Cambridge UL Ms. Gg.1.1 which may be a prose translation of the AEMB or vice versa. Zettl argued for the former and M. Dominica Legge for the latter. O'Farrell-Tate, too, favors a French original, noting that the Brut tradition, in which she places the AEMB, develops from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia to Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman to Middle English verse, French prose, and, finally, Middle English prose versions (14-17).

The introduction provides an itemized comparison of the contents of the Royal AEMB with the other manuscripts arranged by kings (21-28) and a similarly ordered account of possible sources (37-40), although scholars will want to consult the more detailed assessment in Zettl's edition. Unfortunately the first item of the comparison of manuscripts is in error, reading "R (6) has boke where B, D, and F have Bruyt." In fact, R (6) reads "Ase we finde ywryte," while B includes boke. This comment has apparently been elided in the editorial process with the following note for line 32. But this single and potentially confusing error aside, the comparison quickly identifies several of the distinguishing features of the Royal AEMB, including its unique account of Arthur's survival of the war with Modred and continued reign, its concern with historical accuracy, and its sympathetic treatment of William I and John.

Based on the comparison, O'Farrell-Tate offers several suggestions about the motives and interests of the author. Such conclusions are necessarily complicated by the nature of the AEMB's composition which produced multiple layers of revision, but the editor is surely on solid ground in claiming that the text is written to illustrate "the attributes, behaviour and actions of an ideal king, as well as the pressures which threaten the monarch's rule" (32) and "to present a coherent and unified picture of the history of Britain's kings" (35).

O'Farrell-Tate's edition includes a glossary which will help the non-Middle English specialist with unfamiliar words, commentary on textual problems, and a bibliography. She also includes three tables comparing the kings included in the various AEMB with those found in the Cambridge Gg.1.1 text and Le Livere de Reis de Brittanie and the historical English monarchs. All of this provides a useful introduction to the AEMB and should prompt further attention to the history of this chronicle and its manuscript contexts. The AEMB was a remarkably elastic text and every manucript appears to offer variations particular to some time, place or person. The text in the fifteenth-century manuscript Cambridge Dd.14.2, for instance, includes both a text parallel with the earlier manuscripts and two continuations, the latter of which appears to be an authorial rough draft. Perhaps in the future we can expect an electronic edition of this chronicle which will combine the virtues of both editions of historical texts like O'Farrell-Tate's and critical editions like Zettl's.

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Tim Jones

Augustana College