Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280-1520

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280-1520

Article excerpt

The Idea of the Vernacular An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, iz8o1520, ed. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Nicholas Watson, Andrew Taylor, and Ruth Evans (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1999). xvi + 506 pp. ISBN o-o-85989-592-o, L47.50 (hard covers); ISBN 0-85989-593-9, L16.99 (p/b).

The scope, complexity, and intellectual energy of this project are well illustrated by the way that even its glossary proposes to prosecute an 'argument'. That there should be any argumentative work left to do is the more remarkable in a book of such various and thorough parts (nevertheless, the glossary's very inclusions challenge a variety of `conceptual boundaries. Three of these parts collect extracts of Middle English verse and prose (twenty to several hundred lines in length), grouping them according to different theoretical concerns (`authorizing text and writer', `addressing and positioning the audience', `models and images of the reading process'). A final section offers five new essays by the editors which describe and synthesize the issues that these extracts raise. The ancillary components of the volume are themselves substantive: extracts are richly introduced (with detailed contextualizing information and bibliography) and each is also followed by extensive explanatory notes (keyed to individual lines); the volume concludes with an `alternative arrangement' of the excerpts (prepared by Nicholas Watson) which, boldly and remarkably, rethinks the book's entire organization along more conventional lines (imagining how texts might also be grouped by date, genre, region, author, patron, or institutional milieu); a general bibliography offers a conspectus of the field rich enough to be useful to scholars as well as students. Even the contributors to this volume are richer than one might expect, since, in addition to Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Nicholas Watson, Andrew Taylor, and Ruth Evans, six other participants in the Cardiff Conference, on Medieval Translation had a hand in preparing texts. …

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