15.08.03, Calabrese and Shepherd, eds., Yee? Baw For Bokes

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Bryan P. Davis

The Medieval Review 15.08.03

Calabrese, Michael, and Stephen H. A. Shepherd, eds. Yee? Baw For Bokes: Essays on Medieval Manuscripts and Poetics in Honor of Hoyt N. Duggan. Los Angeles: Marymount Institute Press, 2013. pp. x, 296. ISBN: 978-0-9839616-3-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Bryan P. Davis
Georgia Southwestern State University

It would be extremely difficult to argue with the three recommendations on the rear dust jacket of this festschrift that all point out that it is unusually coherent, even if one was disposed to do so. This coherence results not only from the decisions made by the volume's editors, but also from the threads of scholarship and relationship in Hoyt N. Duggan's career that draw medieval manuscript culture and 21st century digital culture into productive dialogue. The editors, Michael Calabrese and Stephen H. A. Shepherd, have thoughtfully divided the collection into two sections of six and seven essays, respectively: Composition and Authorship, and Reception and Use. These two sections roughly correspond to two threads in Duggan's career, namely, the use of electronic databases for metrical analysis of medieval English poetry, and the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive (PPEA). In addition, nine of the thirteen contributors are listed as editors or project staff of PPEA--ten out of fourteen, if one includes the Foreward contributed by Duggan's wife, Gail Duggan.

The decision to place the essay by Duggan's longtime collaborator, Thorlac Turville-Petre, first in the collection provides context for the entire volume. Turville-Petre's essay begins by harkening back to 1983, when he and Duggan were editing The Wars of Alexander for the Early English Text Society. At that time Duggan was already using computers to flag non-standard Middle English alliterative b-verses in extant copies of The Wars of Alexander, and although Turville-Petre was initially skeptical of technology, he came to see that computer analysis assists greatly in establishing both rules for alliterative prosody and the archetype from the corpus of variants in the extant copies of a poem. The greater bulk of the essay explains how similar procedures can be applied to the PPEA edition the archetype of Piers Plowman B to establish Langland's patterns of alliterative practice, that can in turn be used to construct improved critical editions of Langland's poem. Turville-Petre persuasively argues that the B archetype is both less corrupt than Kane and Donaldson argued in their Athlone edition of Langland's poem and a good basis for critical edition of the poem.

Ralph Hanna's contribution to the collection publicizes the so-called Bridges at Abingdon, which survives as a mounted vellum broadsheet hanging in a meeting room within Christ's Hospital, Abingdon, as "an unnoticed alliterative poem." He proceeds to discuss the genesis of the poem and, perhaps more importantly, the alliterative practice of its author, thus adding to the corpus of alliterative verse and practice. In the course of the essay Hanna cites Duggan's work on metrics twice and identifies potential allusions to Piers Plowman in the poem. He also discusses the question of why a Berkshire text should be alliterative, suggesting that minstrels from Coventry may be the source of the alliterative impulse behind the poem. In the third section of his essay, Hanna also provides a full, lightly emended transcription of the poem to medievalists without access to Thomas Hearne's 18th-century printing.

John Burrows's contribution discusses the metrical practice found in the three surviving autograph manuscripts of Hoccleve's poetry with special attention to the elision of final -e's before vowels and sometimes before /h/. Since the corpus of Hoccleve's autograph poetry consists of many thousands of final -e's over the 7034 extant lines in the three manuscripts, Burrows chooses in this essay to discuss only a selection of elided final -e's in infinitives and in monosyllabic adjectives in plurals and definitives. Burrow concludes that although loss of pronounced final -e's can be dated to the turn of the 15th century, Hoccleve knew where they belonged and trusted his readers to make similarly informed judgments in scanning his poems while preparing his autograph manuscripts in the 1420's.

Judith Jefferson follows Burrows's contribution with one on final -e's in the Middle English verse translation of Palladius's Opus Agricultura that was made approximately 15-20 years after Hoccleve produced his autograph manuscripts. Jefferson establishes that the lines in this translation were strictly decasyllabic and that pronunciation of final -e's was sometimes metrically necessary, but also that the translator was conscious of the possibility of readers pronouncing all final -e's in non-eliding positions. She shows in detail how the extant manuscripts witness to the translator's grammatical understanding and metrical practice. Jefferson argues that the translator was comparable to Hoccleve in his understanding of where final -e's belonged, but was far less trusting than Hoccleve of his readers' judgment.

Thomas Prendergast's essay reflects upon what John But's spurious ending to the A version of Piers Plowman has to tell about one reader's knowledge of and reaction to the authentic Langland. Prendergast situates his discussion within the wider discussion of Piers Plowman as, on the one hand, a text with definitive author, or as, on the other, the common property of 14th- and 15th-century literary culture subject to multiple appropriations or recuperations by scribes, readers, and other poetic composers. Prendergast argues that the complex auctoritas created by a poem known by the name of one of its characters that also has an I-narrator and a putative author both named Will is itself what authorizes But's continuation of the A version. According to Prendergast, But's continuation bridges the gap between "writerly intention and readerly response" (72), but his assertion is complicated by the lack of consensus about where Langland’s text ends and But's continuation begins. Prendergast admits that the continuation is inauthentic, but perceptively reads this inauthenticity as conditioned upon and helping us identify the authentic Piers Plowman.

Míċeál Vaughan's contribution ends the first section of the collection by considering Trinity College, Dublin, Manuscript 213, hereafter referred to by the sigil E, a manuscript that contains imperfect copies of both the A version of Piers Plowman and of The Wars of Alexander, a poem previously mentioned in this collection because it was edited by Duggan and Thorlac Turville-Petre. Vaughan is interested primarily in manuscript E due to the 144 lines of misplaced text that it shares with two other A version manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Rawlinson Poetry 137 and University College, Oxford, Manuscript 45, sigils Ra and U respectively. Vaughan examines George Kane's classification of these three manuscripts as a variational group and his assertion that the handling of the misplaced text resulted from scribal tinkering by comparing the manuscripts. His examination shows that the three scribes each handled the insertion of 144 lines slightly differently and that Kane's conclusion about a misplaced bifolium in the parent of the three cannot sufficiently account for the insertion or its placement in each manuscript. Vaughan calls for more study of this group of manuscripts, specifically of how lines from Passus VII in all three came to be inserted into Passus I, why the former passus is the only one in the A tradition to experience this kind of disruption, and whether the answers to these questions will lead to a re-evaluation of this variational group. He suggests that the answers may not arrive until after the completion of the PPEA editions of all A manuscripts, a fitting bridge to the second section of the collection where many of the essays build on the findings from editing of other manuscripts for PPEA.

The second section of the collection begins with an essay by Regula Meyer Evitt on the "self-incriminating Jew" in the Wakefield Buffeting play. This is the one contribution that seems a bit out of place because it is the least concerned with specific manuscript texts and what they show about authors or readers. Nonetheless, the essay does an admirable job of examining the origins of Jews in the mystery cycles as not only types of faith and disbelief, but also as "portraits of . . . malevolent torturers" (112). She concludes that after 1290, the absence of Jews from England paradoxically led to anxiety about Jews as Christ-killers even as their literal presence faded.

Michael Calabrese's essay on Huntington Library, San Marino, Manuscript HM 128, clearly results from his close, meticulous engagement with this specific medieval book. In this essay, Calabrese pursues many complexities that he, Duggan, and Thorlac Turville-Petre observed when editing the book's Piers Plowman text for the PPEA. Calabrese attends to features of the book's layout and arrangement, such as rubrication, correction, and decoration to unravel its function as an anthology. His discussion of the many thematic threads that tie Piers Plowman and the other four texts in the book together concludes that the book was probably assembled as an instructional or pastoral anthology and that its specific use evolved over time as texts were added to the collection.

Stephen H.A. Shepherd's contribution to the collection, "Text-Image Articulation in MS Douce 104," the only extensively illustrated extant copy of Piers Plowman, simultaneously excited my interest and my skepticism. Shepherd argues that the placement of some images, among them the images of Trajan and Mercy, literally touch written text in the manuscript, and thus allude to sources outside Langland's text showing associations made by the illustrator or commissioner of the illustrations. Like Calabrese's argument, Shepherd's derives from close reading of the manuscript while editing it for the PPEA, and while he presents a strong case I am still skeptical that a reader could be expected to give it the repeated attention necessary to get the allusions. Of course, in a bespoke book trade Shepherd's argument is more credible as a commodity produced with a single reader in mind.

D. Vance Smith contributes an essay on the prologue in so-called Ilchester manuscript, a text that with the exception of its prologue is considered one of the most reliable witnesses to the C version of Piers Plowman. Smith argues against the notion that a literary text is best represented by its material manifestations, asserting that the book is actually "deeply inimical to literary form" (203). Smith demonstrates convincingly that the unique form of the Ilchester prologue results from largely from codicological considerations about the recognized length and content of a C version prologue. He also shows that the particular choices about how to amplify A version material into an acceptable C prologue with C material from elsewhere in the poem was motivated by the preoccupation of the complier with clerical abuse to the exclusion of the issues of the poor that Langland intended his audience to consider.

Patricia R. Bart's essay examines the "elusive allure" of the scribe who prepared the most unusual copy of Piers Plowman in Huntington Library, San Marino, Manuscript HM 114. Although HM 114 includes other important literary texts, Bart focuses her attention on its copy of Piers Plowman that conflates material from all three version of the poem, paying particular attention to the 53 lines unique to the manuscript. While Bart cannot claim that the scribe is unequivocally responsible for the copy of Piers Plowman in the manuscript, she does conclude that whoever was responsible displays an interesting mix of brilliance and amateurism in his interventions into the text of Langland's poem.

Robert Adams contribution to the collection asks the question, "was Thomas Fuller right that Langland was a Proto-Protestant?" Adams builds upon his prior synchronic studies of Langland's orthodoxy to consider what he says is the more perilous diachronic question of where Langland fits into the history of Christian thought. Adams's time-traveling thought experiment, in which he compares Langland's theological positions and discursive practices with those of early 16th-century Christians, both reform-minded and anxiously orthodox, concludes that had Langland lived 150 years later than he did, he would have been in the same awkward position as many others, having to negotiate between the claims of reformers with which he was sympathetic and his traditional devotion the Catholic faith.

A.S.G Edwards' essay on the Rylands Lydgate manuscripts concludes the collection with what intends to be a salutary lesson on the dangers of digitalization. Edwards argues that digitization projects, like that of the University of Manchester's John Rylands Library, privilege the uncontextualized image of the text over that actual material text with its messy and often incomplete history of survival and varying reception. He makes his argument primarily by narrating the histories of two Rylands Library manuscripts, English 1 and English 2, both of which contain texts by John Lydgate, including The Troy Book and The Fall of Princes. Edwards's argument would be convincing if digitalization projects were only the institutional equivalent of someone's Pinterest bulletin board, but the PPEA has demonstrated quite convincingly that the is more to the digital medium than images. The medium includes the potential to link a large variety of primary and ancillary materials to any digital text or image including a history of its provenance. Such a project not only provide wide access to medieval texts, as Edwards admits, but also may provide the motivation to examine the material text as facsimiles did when I was a student.

As noted above, this festschrift is an unusually coherent enterprise of its type. Nonetheless, it plows impressively wide and divergent fields with the tools of close attention to material manifestations of texts and their relations to one another, as well as to authors and readers. The collection rewards close attention from a reader and is, therefore, a fitting tribute to Hoyt N. Duggan and his influence on his collaborators and students.

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