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Chaucer editions in special collections

early manuscripts:

  • Hengwrt manuscript:
    • research suggests Chaucer may have overseen its making
    • possibly includes the hand of the poet Thomas Hoccleve
    • spelling is closer to Chaucer’s East Midlands / London dialect of spelling, probably closer to authorial holograph
  • Ellesmere mansucript
    • basis for modern editions since Furnival and Skeat
    • possibly written by same scribe as Hengwrt (the scribe Adam Pinkhurst) but copied ~10 years later; much more “stable” text14
  • Harley MS. 7334
    • basis for Thomas Wright’s 1847 edition, also used by Skeat
    • likely produced in London workshop within decade of Chaucer’s death
    • hand of “Scribe D”
    • includes “Tale of Gamelyn” and significant variations thought in
    • 19c to be early drafts of Chaucer’s work
    • looks authoritative but is “heavily and whimsically edited” (Stephen Knight)

scribes take on more importance than author; Scribe D, Adam Pinkhurst...

  • 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
    • Speght includes dedication to Sir Robert Cecil, letter from Fancis Beaumont to Speght, poetic dialogue between Chaucer and reader, schematic rep of Chaucer's progeny, 16-pg "Life" and summary arguments of Canterbury Tales
  • 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)

Stow, Speght, and Urry all print Thynne's dedicatory verse; Urry also prints them in black letter like the text itself, unlike the other introductory matter; "typographically, they and their sentiments are thus identified with Chaucer's own writings" (153)

Speght "began to monumentalize Chaucer through the critical apparatus as Tynne and Stow had done through the canon" (154)

as mentioned above, Speght includes dedication to Sir Robert Cecil, letter from Fancis Beaumont to Speght, poetic dialogue between Chaucer and reader, schematic rep of Chaucer's progeny, 16-pg "Life" and summary arguments of Canterbury Tales

"In its length and breadth alone this material solidifies the identificaiton of the Works with a specific historical personage and thereby supports both the ideology of a canon and the mediation of literary history through exalted individual writers." (154)
"throughout the Renaissance period, no other Middle English writer is presented with this kind of critical apparatus or the status it imputes" (154)
"The Chaucer constructed by Speght's unique prefatory material is distinctly a member of the English Renaissance, who, like the Chaucer of Tuke's preface, also serves certain nationalistic purposes." (154)

Speght insists on Chaucer's quintessential Englishness, he is Renaissance man; in Urry, he is an eighteenth-century intellectual

early dictionaries used Speght's list of Chaucer's Middle English words, thereby rendering "'old' and 'Chaucerian' nearly synonymous" (160)

Tyrwhitt's 1775 Chaucer, break from tradition; issued Canterbury Tales alone instead of part of collected works; first to attempt to reduce Chaucerian caonon by "relying on stylistic, linguistic, and critical principles" (167)

"This is so because for Tyrwhitt and subsequent editors, Chaucer's works were of far less immediate cultural significance than they had been to the editors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Tyrwhitt, accordingly, introduced the era of the empirical reconstruction of an antique text." (168)
"Clearly, we today reject the contemporizing, almost quaint Renaisance view of Chaucer along with the canon that sustained it as we try to use textual criticism to situate a historical Chaucer rather than overtly to construct one who can advance current cultural agenda. But as quaint as Speght's Works might seem, it is useful to remember that if his edition contemporizes a Renaissance father of English poetry and if Skeat's reflects Victorian imperatives, the Chaucer of The Riverside edition is necessarily the product of a distinctly twentieth-century academic undertaking that implicitly validates its own conception of this figure: the works of any of these Chaucers are constructed as much by their editorial frameworks as by what the Middle English poet himself wrote, and to this extent it may well be that none of these editions offers the more genuinely medieval compositions." (169)