OF THE CHESTER
T H E P U R P O S E O F T H I S chapter is to evaluate the evidence for the text of the Chester cycle presented by the extant manuscripts. Editors such as Deimling, Greg, and Salter have undertaken such evaluation as part of the process of selecting a base text for their editions or projected editions. We did not adopt that procedure in selecting the Huntington manuscript as our base text, and the manner of our evaluation therefore differs somewhat from theirs. In particular, we do not wish to argue for the priority of a manuscript on the grounds that it may present readings that are older than those of other manuscripts, or that its readings are stylistically or semantically better than those of other manuscripts. We are concerned rather with the meaning that should be attached to the phrase "the Chester mystery cycle" and with the different interpretations of the phrase implicit in the texts of the different scribes. Since our aim differs from that of earlier editors, we have not in general attempted to discuss their evidence in this essay.
The data for the discussion are the text and variants in our edition. To reduce this material to manageable proportion we have concentrated on two aspects. The first is the general distribution of variants, which we have used particularly in our discussion of the extant manuscripts. In I974 we published a series of statistical tables of variants in Leeds Studies in English under the title "The Five Cyclic Manuscripts of the Chester