Digital Editing and Curation

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Chaucer editions in special collections

  • Caxton (1478, 1483)
  • Pynson, three volumes bringing together CT, Troilus, and poems, issued separately without title page (1526)
  • William Thynne (1532, reprinted 1542, 1550)
    • Brian Tuke's dedication to Henry VIII, anonymous poems
  • John Stow (1561)
  • Thomas Speght (1598, text largely inherited from Stow; 1602, second edition with revision of original critical material based on looking at "old written Copies" owned by William Thynne, with help of Thynne's son Francis; second edition of 1602 reissued in 1687 with minor changes)
    • 1598 edition is first to include The Isle of Ladies, The Flower and the Leave; 1602 edition is first to include ABC and prose Tale of Jack Upland (only ABC now thought to be authentically Chaucerian)
    • 1687 reprint of 1602 edition claims to include recently found (but spurious) ends to Cook's Tale and Squire's Tale
  • John Urry (1721)
  • Thomas Tyrwhitt (1775 5 volumes; didn't like Speght, first modern edition to break with earlier traditions -- yet used 1602 revision to prepare printer's copy)

Tim William Machan, "Speght's "Works" and the Invention of Chaucer," Text 8 (1995): 145-170

"If Hengwrt is a not very distinguisehd copy of a then not especially distinguished vernacular poem, The Riverside Chaucer reflects and sustains the unimpeachable canonical setatus of Chaucer as the 'father of English poetry.'" (146)

Thynne, Stow, Speght: "These were the three editions, then, in which much of the Renaissance read Chaucer" (147)

"while modern scholarship may reject as spurious many of the works Speght's editions attribute to Chaucer and also much of his biographic speculation and linguistic explanation, The Riverside Chaucer shares a fundamental theoretical outlook with Speght's Works: both identify specific works with the texts of a specific individual, both to valorize the oeuvre of the writer, both attempt to make the works accessible to a distant audience even as they everywhere inscribe recognition of the works' inaccessibility, and both stand as self-validating monuments to their perspectives on Chaucer and English literary history. The view of Chaucer that Speght's editions articulate is thus simultaneously a distinctly Renaissance outlook and a development -- but not culmination -- of the traditions that coalesced to invent the poet as the father of English poetry." (148)

Speght shows "imputus for textual completeness" that characterizes the age -- not "empirical criteria' but "an interpretive conception of Chaucer and his importance for English literary and cultural history" motivates the text (149)

"Ellesmere shows none of the compositional indeterminacy of Hengwrt, and its lavis design -- including elaborate borders, illuminated letters, and the famous pilgrim portraits -- physically transforms the Canterbury Tales from the casual production of a vernacular poet to the celebrated work of a celebrated author." (149)

after incunable printings, "none of Chaucer's compositions was again issued in a volume devoted exclusively to it until the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, so that the format of the complete works predetermined Chaucerian reception until at least that time. (150)

Renaissance construction of Chaucer as a courtly poet by including courtly ballads in these "complete works" (150)

inclusion of "didactic and uninspired" works like Plowman's Tale or Jackupland part of "historicity of Protestant beliefs"; part of Renaissance cultural project

"tradition of textual accretion" reaches "tis apex" in 1721, with John Urry's edition -- includes 71 items, on 1/3 now considered Chaucerian (152)

"A further fifty years would go by before the canonical Renaissance Chaucer was first rejected through the initial attempts to restrict Chaucerian attributions by Tyrwhitt, who considered editions of the Canterbury Tales (at least) to have grown progressively worse after Caxton's second edition of c. 1484 but who nevertheless presupposed the prestigious Chaucer whom Pynson, Thynne, Stow, Speght, and Urry helped to invent." (152-3)