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Chaucer The workes of Geffray Chaucer newly printed, with dyuers workes whiche were never in print before London: printed by Thomas Godfrey, 1532 Hunterian Bs.2.17

The first collected edition of Chaucer’s works to be printed appeared in 1532. It was edited by William Thynne and is regarded as being vital for sustaining interest in Chaucer, ensuring his lasting reputation and influence.

Thynne’s edition is of particular interest to us because it has been demonstrated that he used the University of Glasgow manuscript of The Romaunt of the Rose in its compilation. Sections of text in the manuscript have been carefully marked off in order to make up the pages of print. The page displayed to the left corresponds to folio 58r of the manuscript, shown above. About three quarters of the way down on the right hand page of the manuscript, the annotation ‘coll’ can be found besides the line ‘And seide sir how that yee may’. This mark indicated to the compositor where the second column of text in the corresponding printed page was to begin, as can be seen in the first line of the second column on page shown here: ‘And sayd sir: howe that ye may’. This part of the poem is actually from a section that most scholars have agreed is not by Chaucer, but by an unknown author using a northern dialect. However, Simon Horobin has recently questioned this traditional assertion; he suggests that Chaucer may well have experimented with northern rhymes early in his career and that the language and authorship of the whole text should be reconsidered. Folios 13v and 17v from the manuscript (shown above) are marked by further annotations from the compositor.

Chaucer The Canterbury Tales
England: 1476
MS Hunter 197 (U.1.1)

This is a fifteenth-century manuscript of Chaucer’s magnum opus, in which a diverse group set off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. In having the characters tell stories to while away the time en route, Chaucer provides the perfect framework for a series of narratives, told in a wide variety of styles and genres, that together mirror all human life. It has been universally celebrated for its dramatic qualities and inimitable humour. The work, however, was never completed and Chaucer died leaving it unrevised. It survives in ten fragments; there are no explicit connections between these or any real indication of the order in which Chaucer intended that they should be read. Even modern editions today differ in the order in which the tales are presented.

Over eighty complete and fragmentary manuscript copies of the poem survive today. The colophon of this volume supplies the information that it was made by Geoffrey and Thomas Spirleng and completed in January 1476. Written on paper in an ordinary business hand, the manuscript's leaves are generously sized but the layout of the text is economical with no attempt at expensive decoration. Geoffrey Spirleng was a civic official in Norwich. He and his son probably copied the poem out for their own use. Their version is somewhat eccentrically ordered; they originally missed out two tales that then had to be added in at the end. Shown to the left is the page with the original colophon, crossed out by Spirleng after he realized that he had not quite finished after all. It is followed by the first of the appended tales, that of the Clerk (shown below right). As well as inadvertently omitting part of the text, Spirleng furthermore copied out the Shipman's and Prioress's tales twice. Shown below are the beginnings of his two versions of the tale of the Shipman. Such mistakes unwittingly offer us a fascinating glimpse into late medieval scribal practises. Copying the same tales out twice indicates that Spirleng worked on his manuscript over a long period of time, while his problems with ordering have been attributed to the fact that he used two separate (and differently ordered) manuscripts as copy texts for his own book.

Chaucer An ABC
England: Fifteenth Century
MS Hunter 239 (U.3.12)

An ABC is one of several short poems by Chaucer inspired by French courtly verse. It is a skilful translation of a prayer found in the French allegorical poem Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine by Guillaume de Deguileville. It consists of a series of stanzas addressed to the Virgin, each celebrating a different aspect of her particular qualities and power. The title comes from the fact that each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet, going from A-Z. It was probably written in the 1370s, at a time when Chaucer was beginning to experiment with the pentameter.

The poem here is incorporated into a fifteenth-century copy of The Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode, an anonymous English prose translation of Guillaume de Deguileville’s work. It follows the prose text without a break. The beginning of the poem - ‘All myghty and all merciable qweene’ – is found towards the end of the left hand page displayed here, flagged up by the second of the two line initial ‘A’ s in blue ink.

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