Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Textual Criticism and Middle English Texts

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Textual Criticism and Middle English Texts

Article excerpt

Tim William Machan, Textual Criticism and Middle English Texts (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994). 2 50 pp. ISBN 08139-I 5o8-z. $40.oo.

In this valuable book Tim William Machan locates Middle English editing within what he terms a 'humanist' tradition: `the equation of the authority of a text with an author, an idealist conception of the work, the privileging the lexical over the nonlexical, and a problematic sense of historicity' (p. 18). His opening chapters explore the consequences of this tradition as it is reflected in the history of Middle English editing. There is much of importance here, buttressed by an impressive range of illustration. Later chapters challenge the validity of applying post-medieval conceptions of author and authority to Middle English texts. The arguments are learned and subtle, yet some of his conclusions seem to require qualification. He asserts that `there was no opportunity or forum in public venues like the court, the church or the universities ... to demonstrate a claim to a distinctive vernacular kind of authority' (p. 13 5). But such a position cannot be maintained as a historical constant: for example, the emergence of verse associated with the court (Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate), Arundel's 1407 Constitutions, and the interest in vernacular translation at Oxford all suggest a range of vernacular challenges to 'authority' in all these `public venues' within a single, short period. Notions of the status of author and work probably vary more markedly according to context and circumstance than Machan acknowledges. …

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