Chaucer Editing

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


If only one manuscript (MS) exists for a work, then the editor may provide a reproduction called a “diplomatic text”; or for college and high school students the editor may unify the language and provide what is called a “normalized text”; or if it’s pretty clear some corrections need to be made on the basis of the editor’s judgment he or she may provide an “emendation,” with textual notes showing the changes.

If several manuscripts exist for a work, editors generally follow the “best text tradition,” basing their edition on the earliest text and amending mistakes by consulting the other manuscripts and registering variants in the textual notes. (Considered the best Canterbury Tales is the Ellesmere manuscript.)

Stemma = the tree of descent. You want “O” — hypothetically the author’s original or “ur-text.” For The Book of the Duchess

F = Fairfax 16 (lacks lines 31-96, 288, 886; lines added in later hand)
B = Bodleian 638 (lacks 24-96, 288 with a gap left, 791-792, 886)
T = Tanner 346 (lacks 31-96, 288, 886, 1283, no gaps)
Th = Thynne’s printed edition of 1532 (has all lines).

Usually only Caxton is included as printed editions since he was working from manuscripts; but Thynne was working similarly in this case.

O yields the hypothetical X (with gaps?), Y, and Z. X yields B and F (an F2 has the gaps filled; B and F are close). X and Y together yield T. Y and Z yield Th. (Y is theorized because T and Th make the same mistakes.)

If a text was popular for a century or more, you can expect changes both accidental and intentional creeping in. Inadvertent scribal errors include line skips, line repeats, repeat of a word from the line above, etc. Intentional changes occur because, like Adam Scriveyn, intelligent scribes considered themselves editors; so they replace colloquialisms and obsolete words, and sometimes they even consider themselves creators.

Rescension = textual criticism. Principles and problems include:

durior lectio — the difficult reading tends to be the more original.
“community of error” — similarity of errors is a way of working backwards towards the original.
palimpsest — writing on top of earlier writing, read now with ultraviolet light.
“minims” — quill strokes that obscure intended lettering. (In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain’s picture of Mary is on the “∫∫∫ore” part of his shield; editors thought this read “more” then realized it was “inore” or inner part of his shield, which makes much more sense.)

The range of dating is paleography is about 35 years.