20.02.05 Connolly and Radulescu (eds.), Editing and Interpretation of Middle English Texts

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Alexander L. Kaufman

The Medieval Review 20.02.05

Connolly, Margaret and Raluca Radulescu, eds. Editing and Interpretation of Middle English Texts: Essays in Honour of William Marx. Texts & Transitions: vol. 12. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols , 2018. pp. xix, 351. ISBN: 978-2-503-56847-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Alexander L. Kaufman
Ball State University

This collection of fifteen essays focuses on the editing and interpretation of Middle English religious texts and chronicles and serves not only as a testament to the rigorous scholarship of the honoree but also as a volume that contributes much new insight into a number of works, manuscript traditions, and the challenging practice and process of editing manuscripts and early printed books. The collection begins with a preface from Derek Pearsall, who describes the many scholarly and professional activities that have encompassed Marx's distinguished career, including his editions of The Devil's Parliament, The Harrowing of Hell and Destruction of Jerusalem, The Middle English Liber Aureus and Gospel of Nicodemus, and An English Chronicle, 1377-1461; his contribution to the handlist series the Index of Middle English Prose in the volume Manuscripts in The National Library of Wales; and his work as editor for the journal Trivium and the book series Middle English Texts. Oliver Pickering compiles a list of all of Marx's publications, which demonstrates his substantial and learned commitment to Middle English literature.

The anthology of essays is divided into three parts. After a thoughtful introduction by the editors on the challenges and rewards of editing and interpreting Middle English texts, Part 1 begins logically with "Interpreting Textual Evidence." Perhaps no other Middle English poem presents as many editorial conundrums as Piers Plowman, and A. S. G. Edward's opening essay explores the editorial methods George Kane employed when producing his Athlone edition of the A-, B-, and C-texts of the poem. Edwards scrutinizes the authorial declarations that Kane uses as reasons for the decisions made regarding form, capitalization, and consistency in practice when crafting his editions. This is a thoughtful, engaging essay, one that digs deep into the logic of Kane, whose uncertain editorial methodologies have resulted in a knotty edition. Ronald Waldon's piece examines punctuation practices found within the same passage in number of manuscripts of the Polychronicon, including those of the Ranulf Higden and John Trevisa groups, William Caxton's early printed edition, and modern translations, and concludes that "there seems to be no evidence that the scribes worked with the intention, or under instruction, to copy punctuation exactly from the exemplar. ... On the other hand, the randomness of the practice of some makes it difficult to attribute all change to the deliberate intention of the scribe to add to the reader's appreciation of the meaning or syntax" (64). Waldon's essay and argument are nicely augmented by the inclusion of several images from the various manuscripts. Janet Cowen's essay is a study of the Middle English translation of Boccaccio's work De Mulierbus Claris and the meter of the poem, with a particular focus on the use of virgules in the text as an aid to help the reader determine where the caesura fell. This essay would also be of interest to John Lydgate scholars, for Cowan observes similarities between that author's metrical patterns in his Fall of Princes and those of the anonymous poet of De Mulierbus Claris. Hans Sauer's contribution ends this first part of the collection and also focuses on this prose work by Boccaccio and two later translations, one from the fifteenth-century in verse and another, written by Henry Parker, Lord Morley (1476-1556), in sixteenth-century prose. Sauer focuses on the use of binomials in the Middle English On Famous Women--those word pairs, doublets, and twin formulae that authors use for stylistic purposes and observes that Boccaccio used binomials less frequently than his fifteenth- and sixteenth-century translators.

The second section of this volume has four essays that focus on "Editing and Interpreting Chronicles." Erik Kooper opens this section with a lively and engaging essay on the missing 4,000 lines in the Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester found in London, British Library MS Sloan 2027, a manuscript also containing a copy of the Middle English Prose Brut. Here, Kooper's essay and his modus operandi exemplify why, at times, scholars of manuscript studies must think like a detective. Kooper's initial hypothesis, that the writer of the Sloan manuscript purposely edited, rearranged, and cut specific sections of the work to forge "a version of England's history that suited his personal tastes" (129), was one that the author realized needed to be reconsidered, for the copyist and the adapter are not one and the same. Andrew Prescott scrutinizes the historical representation of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, with a particular focus on the ways in which the commons were portrayed in Marx's edition of An English Chronicle, 1377-1461 and other historical writings, such as the Anonimalle Chronicle, the "Common Version" of the Middle English Prose Brut, and London Letter Book H. With over 180 extant manuscripts, the Middle English Prose Brut tradition is one of the most complex and rewarding bodies of historical writing in any period. Raluca Radulescu, in her chapter, emphasizes the importance of seeing this tradition as a collection of unique manuscripts, each one deserving of editorial attention, as each represents a different scribal culture, and thus different scribal histories and vocabularies. It is an attentive essay--a persuasive, formal CFP in many ways, calling for more editions--and recognizes that because very few complete editions exist from this tradition an accurate sense of scribal intentions and reading practices is murky. Julia Boffey's essay focuses on Robert Fabyan's two compilations: The Great Chronicle of London, which survives in a single manuscript, London, Metropolitan Archives CLC/270/MS03313, and The New Chronicles of England and of France, which is found in London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero C XI and Holkham Hall, Norfolk, MS 671. Boffey argues convincingly that these two works do share certain textual similarities but "reflect some degree of sensitivity to the purposes and probable audiences for which each was compiled" (174), subsequently creating some challenges to anyone seeking to analyze or edit these two pieces of historical literature.

Part 3 of the collection has a total of seven essays on "Editing and Interpreting Religious Texts." Oliver Pickering's contribution is a close study of the revision of texts, specifically of verse turned into prose and also of prose turned into verse, the latter of which was uncommon in Middle English but can be found in the short didactic piece Nine Points Best Pleasing to God (at times it is known as Nine Virtues). His essay emphasizes the fluidity found in Middle English literature, and how some individual works shift between verse and prose. Such hybrid texts present challenges to editors, especially when they must consider the visual design of the text and how layout and form affect readability and interpretation. Pickering's essay includes a re-edited edition of the text found in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson C. 285 and Cambridge, Cambridge University Library MS Ff.5.40 that embraces the hybridity of verse and prose found in Nine Points. Susan Powell continues her engagement with John Mirk's Festial with an essay that provides us with some of the scholar's recent thoughts on textual matters since the publication of her two-volume edition of the work for EETS, supporting the notion that a scholar's work is never truly complete. For anyone working on Mirk's Festial, Powell's contribution of extended explanatory notes is important. Margaret Connolly revisits her edition of The Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God and reexamines her decision to not include separately circulated chapters of the work, a "pragmatic decision" (230) at the time of researching and writing, yet it was one that considered how "the form that a modern edition takes will frame the interpretation of the text, and may even introduce distortions on its own" (231). Veronica O'Mara's essay continues the theme of difficult editorial decisions with a chapter that studies a selection of prayers from The Processional of the Nuns of Chester. O'Mara is concerned here with editorial and indexing methods related to identification and categorization of medieval prayer, and her essay includes some important insights regarding prayers that have been translated into Middle English from other longer works, and post-1500 prayers and the challenge of identifying sources. Mayumi Taguchi's piece continues the discussion on the importance of sources when compiling and editing a text, and inspects the use of sources in the anonymous, late fifteenth-century work The Historye of the Patriarks and William Caxton's Golden Legend. Taguchi describes how both works relied on the Vulgate Bible and biblical compendia (such as the Latin Historia Scholastica and its French translation, the Bible Historiale) and suggests that Caxton's method and process resulted in the creation of new vernacular Bible translations. Martha Driver's focused chapter is on a text that Marx knew well, the prose Gospel of Nicodemus, and she examines the illustrations that are found in the first printed edition by Julian Notary and the second printed edition by Wynkyn de Worde. Specifically, Driver's essay (augmented by sixteen well-chosen images) looks at de Worde's adaptation of Notary's woodcuts and analyzes the way the illustrations "serve as supplementary presentational 'language' to guide the reader thorough the text" (285). Driver observes that printers such as Notary and de Worde were more than printers; they were actively engaged in the creation of literature and realized the importance that the layout, form, and scale of image/text has on interpretation. John J. Thompson's essay concludes the volume with a discussion of some of the pressing matters with which Marx has continually grappled, specifically how reading practices of vernacular texts have fluctuated over time, and especially during periods marked by political and religious change. As with all of the contributors to this volume, Thompson centers his discussion on texts that Marx knew well, and here in this chapter the focus for Thompson's argument are two texts from the peudo-Bonaventuran tradition: Nicholas Love's Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ and the Privity of the Passion.

This volume of essays belongs on the bookshelf of any scholar interested in the complicated but rewarding nature of editing and interpreting Middle English texts. The contributors honor William Marx through the depth and rigor of their essays that continue the intellectual conversations that he has had with the above mentioned works, and the editors are to be commended for assembling a cohesive, thoughtful, and attractive festschrift that embraces and advances the honoree's intellectual passions.

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