Gower Bibliography

Scribe D and the Marketing of Ricardian Literature

Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn and Justice, Steven. "Scribe D and the Marketing of Ricardian Literature." In The Medieval Professional Reader at Work: Evidence from Manuscripts of Chaucer, Langland, Kempe, and Gower. Ed. Hilmo, Maidie and Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn. E L S Monograph Series (85). Victoria, BC: English Literary Studies, 2001, pp. 217-237.


"Scribe D," so named because his is the fourth hand in the Trinity MS of CA (Cambridge, Trinity College R.3.2), was identified by Ian Doyle and Malcolm Parkes, in their groundbreaking essay of 1978, as having also participated in or as having been the sole copyist of 10 other MSS, including seven other copies of CA. He was evidently closely associated with another scribe, designated as Delta, whose six known MSS include another copy of CA. "Scribe D," Kerby-Fulton and Justice write, "(even without any help from Delta) is responsible for the largest identifiable corpus of vernacular Ricardian literary manuscripts extant today. As has often been noticed, they are all 'quality' manu-scripts, created mainly, it seems, for armigerous patrons. But what has not been noticed is that predominant among these patrons is a particular class of reader: parliamentarians and high-ranking civil servants associated with early Lancastrian Westminster. The portfolios of these two scribes, in fact, give us a window on the tastes and interests of an audience of Westminster lawmakers of varying ranks" (217). This group of readers "bears a striking resemblance to those Anne Middleton hypothesized in her classic Speculum essay: an audience concerned with the 'middel weie,' the common profit, and the 'public voice,' a savvy and assertively contemporary audience that sought the most recent and topical versions of the vernacular texts they cared for" (222) Among the productions of these two scribes, the authors take a particularly close look at Princeton University Library MS Taylor 5. They deduce from D's role in correcting the pages that he did not write that he ought probably be credited with supervising the entire production; and they note, among his strategies for pleasing his intended clientele, the substitution on f. 1 of the more up-to-date, revised dedication. Among the different lines of inquiry that his role suggests, they choose to discuss his and Delta's work "as an exercise in literary entrepreneurship, in the marketing of Ricardian literature" (223). In that respect, the prominence of Gower and Trevisa – 12 of their 17 known MSS – cannot be overlooked. "Taken together, the English Polychronicon and the Confessio Amantis make a striking couple: in the reflection of the other, each looks even more clearly and powerfully to reflect a repertory of historical exemplarity. If we add Trevisa's De Proprietatibus, which Scribe D copied, we might expand our definition of the category slightly to speak of works of secular exemplarity – works defining, by exemplifying, the conditions of public virtue and political efficaciousness" (225). The scribes' work also reveals a confidence in and respect for the vernacular, not only in the quality of the copies themselves but also in D's avoidance of the hierarchy of scripts that is usually employed to distinguish vernacular passages from Latin. The role of these scribes suggests, the authors assert, that "the reading, the 'reception,' of Ricardian literature, even when that literature was 'courtly,' did not merely happen, did not simply perpetuate itself by its mere appeal or through an agentless market, but that it was shaped by, and around the interests of, some of the scribes to whom we owe a good many of our important texts" (226). They return to the Taylor MS for a concluding consideration of D's possible use of illustrations as part of his marketing strategy, enhancing the authority of his text, as well as incidentally revealing an astute reading of Gower's poem. [PN Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 22.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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