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What the manuscripts tell us about the Parson's Tale.

A consensus has long existed that the Parson's Tale and the Retraction were intended by Chaucer to bring The Canterbury Tales to an end. A superficial reading of the manuscripts would tend to confirm this consensus, and only one modern edition, the Manly--Rickert Text, has raised the issue of its validity. The statistics, as we shall see, are impressive. A closer look, however, will show an uneasiness with the Parson's Tale, expressed mainly at its juncture with the Retraction, but also in its intentional omission from some collections of the Tales. This uneasiness begins with what is probably the second extant manuscript, London, British Library, MS Harley 7334, which has as heading for the Retraction Preces de Chaucer. It finds expression in a number of ways. It never successfully distinguishes where the Parson stops speaking and Chaucer 'the maker' begins; nor does it make sense of some of the language employed in the Retraction -- the word 'treatise', the thanks given to God for what is pleasing to the reader in a work being largely retracted, the way the Canterbury Tales themselves are mentioned in a list of Chaucer's works. All the responses observable in the manuscripts have continued to our own day. Those troubled by the Parson's Tale have directed their efforts towards assimilating it into a reading of the work as a whole. They have failed to consider the possibility that Chaucer intended it as an independent work, the Treatise on Penitence, with the Retraction as a fitting conclusion.

1 Overview

Let us look first at manuscripts that come to us in undamaged condition.(1) Ten of these, and the two Caxtons as well, contain both the Parson's Tale and the Retraction. Only one manuscript, Jean d'Angouleme's BN f. angl. 39, breaks this pattern. The personal idiosyncrasies of its patron--owner so clearly played a part in the choice of tales included in the Paris MS that the failure to mention the Parson's Tale might mean simply the patron's disapproval rather than any questioning of its validity at the end of the work. Jean's taste played an interfering and intrusive role in the very production of the manuscript.(2)

A similar picture emerges from the slightly damaged manuscripts. Of the sixteen with folios but no complete quires missing, only one, London, British Library, MS Sloane 1686, leaves out the Parson's Tale and the Retraction.(3) Of the three with a single quire missing, MS Barlow 20 is the exception.(4) Balow 20 and Sloane 1686 should weigh more heavily than the Paris MS, however. Neither is selective in its inclusions until the end of the Manciple's Tale. Here each clearly intended to bring The Canterbury Tales to an end.

A number of the more heavily damaged manuscripts should also be considered. Eighteen of these include part of the Parson's Tale, and no doubt once included the whole of it and the Retraction as well.(5) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 686, on the other hand, basing its ordering of the fragments on the a-Ellesmere model, dwindles to a close after Sir Thopas by including only the 'Tale of a Crow', which the scribe attributes in running heads to Lydgate, and the St Cecilia, which he never assigns to a pilgrim. This ending is the more surprising since the manuscript includes an elaborate if spurious conclusion for the Cook's Tale.(6)

Another manuscript, Harley 7333, a great anthology of secular literature, written by Austin canons at St Mary de Pratis near Leicester, breaks off after 253 lines of the Parson's Tale, at the foot of a recto. Not only the blank versopage but a blank leaf follow, plus four small booklets mainly consisting of poems by Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate and Hoccleve. That the break happens at the foot of a page suggests that the copy-text was not responsible. Apparently the Austin canons found reason to stop copying the Parson's Tale.(7)

Of the forty-nine manuscripts so far considered four fail to include the Parson's Tale at all, and one chooses to leave out the final three-quarters of it. For a large majority of mediaeval readers the Parson's Tale and the Retraction belonged at the end of The Canterbury Tales.

2 Reservations

Reservations about the Parson's Tale do appear in some of the manuscripts that contain it. The first of these is CUL Ii.3.26, produced, according to the Manly--Rickert estimate, between 1430 and 1450. At the end of the Parson's Tale, before the Retraction, MS Ii.3.26 has the rubric 'Explicit Tractatus Galfridi Chaucer de septem peccatis mortalibus ut dicitur pro fabula Rectoris'. The exemplars used for Ii.3.26 come from a number of traditions -- in the A fragment from the same source as Harley 7334 (in all probability the second oldest of the manuscripts that have survived); in B(1) and the Merchant's Tale from the d tradition; in the G fragment from an exemplar close to the one later used for Rawlinson Poetry 149; but in the main and especially at the end from exemplars in the same tradition as those later used in the b family of manuscripts.

This Latin rubric, which singles out what has preceded as a treatise by Chaucer, reinforces what the Retraction itself labels the Parson's Tale, and shows on the part of the reader responsible a close attention to the text, which he recognizes as different from the tales he had previously copied. 'Ut dicitur pro fabula Rectoris' is a comment that has no parallel in the rubrics used for other sections of The Canterbury Tales in any of the manuscripts.

The influence of the person responsible for the rubric at the end of the Treatise on the Seven Deadly Sins in CUL Ii.3.26 was considerable. The b family of manuscripts, in so far as we can determine, adopted a similar rubric.(8) The first manuscript of the family is the Helmingham (now at Princeton), a curious combination of a very early vellum fragment enveloped in a paper addition made shortly after mid-century. This combination of paper and vellum is almost complete; the exemplars it used form the basis for the b family's text. The manuscript suffers through damage the loss of the end of the Parson's Tale from X.754; it would thus seem to leave us in doubt as to how it ended the Parson's Tale and introduced the Retraction. The second of the b manuscripts, Oxford, New College, MS D 314, however, which has lost only its first quire and includes all the tales, uses (as does Helmingham) the CUL Ii.3.26 text for the Parson's Tale and repeats verbatim the Ii.3.26 explicit for the treatise.

The next member of b is the manuscript used by Caxton for the first printed edition of The Canterbury Tales. The manuscript no longer exists, but of course we have copies of the Caxton. Someone, in all probability Caxton himself, prepared the copy for printing.(9) He (or the predecessor responsible for the manuscript he used as copy-text) approved the general tenor of the rubric calling the Parson's Tale a 'tractatus' by Chaucer, but he read the material carefully enough to recognize that the treatise was about penitence: hence the change in the wording from 'de septem peccatis mortalibus' to 'de Penitencia'.

Though the final member of b, Trinity College MS R.3.15, is not copied from a printed text, its exemplars were for most of the tales the same as or extremely close to the copy-text used by Caxton.(10) Three tales were lost completely and others had to be copied from non-b exemplars. But the last four tales were intact, and the rubric in question at the end of the treatise, 'ut dicitur pro fabula Rectoris', incorporated the change first made in surviving books by Caxton. Caxton did not change the rubric in his second edition, though he clearly consulted other texts than the one he had used for the first.

The evidence provided by CUL Ii.3.26 and the b family is not therefore the mindless copying-out of a rubric. On at least three occasions the wording of the explicit received critical scrutiny. The first was when it was originally composed; the second when the wording was changed from 'de septem peccatis mortalibus' to 'de Penitencia'; the third when Caxton 'corrected' his first edition with the help of what was probably an a manuscript and left the explanation unchanged.

The reservations on the Parson's Tale occurred at the juncture with the Retraction, not at the beginning. There lines 48--51 in the Parson's Prologue, with their fusion of Jeremiah and Revelation, prepare us for the opening of the 'tale':

And Jhesu, for his grace, wit me sende

To shewe yow the wey, in this viage,

Of thilke parfit glorious pilgrymage

That highte Jerusalem celestial.(11)

In fact the quotation from Jeremiah, in the Vulgate Latin version, heads the Parson's Tale in twenty-two of the thirty-nine manuscripts in which the juncture between Prologue and Tale appears. It is translated three lines later to introduce the 'way' of penitence, one of the many 'weyes espirituels that leden folk to oure Lord Jhesu Crist and to the regne of glorie' (X.79), a way that those can take who have 'thurgh synne ... mysgoon fro the righte wey of Jerusalem celestial' (X.80). The treatise that follows, however, hardly fils the Parson's promise of 'a myrie tale in prose', a 'meditacioun' -- above all his promise to 'shewe', not tell, the way. The very sentence that we have been quoting, inspired in its beginning by Jeremaiah and Revelation, and also perhaps by the Parson's Prologue, ends in a meticulous didacticism characteristic of the treatise:

to wyten what is Penitence, and whennes it is cleped Penitence, and in how

manye maneres been the acciouns or werkynges of Penitence, and how manye

speces ther been of Penitence, and whiche thynges apertenen and bihoven to

Penitence, and whiche thynges destourben Penitence. (X.83)

Those who had enjoyed the stories on a superficial level and those who understood and appreciated the challenge Chaucer had set himself in the Parson's Prologue must have been equally disappointed at what ensued. Having once been attached to The Canterbury Tales, perhaps for the first time in the Hengwrt MS, the Treatise held its ground. Even those who expressed their reservations by calling it 'tractatus Galfridi Chaucer', told in place of a Parson's Tale, still included it. One of its earliest readers left an inadvertent response. The Hengwrt--Ellesmere scribe, faced with the prospect of repeating under much closer direction for Ellesmere what he had earlier copied for Hengwrt, produced what Manly--Rickert call a 'carelessly written manuscript' with more than sixty unique variants, 'most of them careless slips'.(12)

3 The early manuscripts

It is worth noting that it was some thirty years after Chaucer's death before any of the manuscripts purposely omitted the Parson's Tale, or the rubric calling it a 'tractatus' came to be written. To the first thirty years belong approximately eight extant 'complete' manuscripts: Hengwrt, Harley 7334, Corpus 198, CUL Dd.4.24, Ellesmere, Lansdowne 851, CUL Gg.4.27 and Petworth (listed in what is probably chronological order).(13) They testify to the effort made by the early scribes and supervisors to assemble all the Canterbury Tales material, arrange it in a manner that would make it easy to read, and minimize gaps and inconsistencies. To these efforts we owe the discovery of the Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale and the epilogues to the Man of Law's Tale and the Nun's Priest's Tale. To these efforts we owe also the inclusion in half these manuscripts of the Gamelyn as a Cook's Tale and the creation of a number of spurious links. Do these earliest manuscripts have anything to tell us about the Parson's Tale and the Retraction?

The earliest manuscript, Hengwrt, breaks off in the middle of the thrid of the Deadly Sins, Ira, at X.551. It undoubtedly once included the Retraction, for the much later MS Hatton Donat 1, using what was probably the same exemplar and, if not, a contemporary exemplar copied directly from Hengwrt's, does have the Retraction.(14) Furthermore it has the Retraction without any heading at all, starting in mid-line with no separation from the text of the treatise. The only other manuscript to treat the Retraction this way is MS Bodley 414, which shares with London, Royal College of Physicians, MS 388 an exemplar for the Parson's Tale derived through intermediaries from Hengwrt.(15) Hengwrt and Hatton Donat 1 reflect the earliest state of the text. They have fewer divisions for the Parson's Tale than manuscripts based on later exemplars. In particular they lack the mistaken explicit for the 'secunda pars' Ellesmere inserts at X.386, before the heading for the section on the Seven Deadly Sins.(16)

It seems likely, then, that the earliest state of the text, the one represented in Hengwrt, Hatton Donat 1, Physicians 388 and Bodley 414, had no division between the treatise and the Retraction. The efforts to separate by rubrics the Retraction from the treatise testify to the uneasiness among early readers, who saw that the Retraction itself could not be part of the Parson's Tale. When separated from the treatise as a conclusion for the whole work, the Retraction still raised difficulties: the difficulty of calling The Canterbury Tales 'this litel tretys', the difficulty of thanking God if anything in the work (most of which was about to be retracted) was pleasing to readers, the difficulty of referring to The Canterbury Tales as if it were a separate work.

The efforts to separate the Retraction began with what is probably the earliest manuscript stil to contain it, Harley 7334, which used the heading Preces de Chaucer. Ellesmere reflects the pattern for introducing the Retraction that most of the manuscripts follow: 'Here taketh the Maker of this bok his leve'.(17) Whether Ellesmere originated the pattern is a question. Lansdowne 851, after 'Explicit fabula Rectoris', translates the formula into Latin, using the word composito (sic) for 'maker'. Lansdowne 851 used exemplars developed by the c family of manuscripts, used earlier by MS Corpus 198. But Corpus 198 breaks off even earlier than Hengwrt. Written by the same scribe as Harley 7334, and incorporating some of the same features,(18) Corpus 198 could have used either the Preces formula, the maker-taking-his-leave formula, or, like the Hengwrt--Hatton Donat 1 exemplar, perhaps nothing at all. What happens in the a family is also suggestive. The earliest member, Cambridge University Library, MS Dd.4.24, has lost everthing after VIII.855 (the middle of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale). But the other four manuscripts in the family all have the same heading for the Retraction: 'Here taketh the Maker his leve'. The influence of the Hengwrt marginalia on the man responsible for CUL Dd.4.24, and the Dd.4.24 editor's influence in turn on Ellesmere (the added passages in the Wife of Bath's Prologue), make possible the following sequence: no setting-off of the Retraction from the treatise; Preces de Chaucer as a heading for the Retraction; 'Here taketh the Maker his leve'; and finally the addition of the words 'of this bok'.(19)

The influence of the a family's version without the words 'of this bok' extended to the final constant group, E[n.sup.3], the copy-text for which was put together in the decade of the 1470s.(20) BL Add. 5140, the second of the group's two extant manuscripts, written at the end of the fifteenth century for an archbishop of Canterbury, translates the heading into Latin: 'Hic capit autor licensiam.' Also following the a reading is the late anthology, now the second part of Cambridge, Magdalene College, MS Pepys 2006, which includes as its principal items the Melibeus and the Parson's Prologue and Tale.(21)

In contrast is the only other anthologized Parson's Tale, the very early Wiltshire, Longleat House, MS 29, written in the 1420s from what may well be the immediate ancestor of the Ellesmere copy-text.(22) Nothing in Longleat 29 associates the treatise with Chaucer or The Canterbury Tales. Without a title, without the Retraction, with few running heads, the text comes to an end with 'Explicit deo gracias'. Longleat 29 and Ellesmere derive from the second of the two textual traditions for the Parson's Tale, Hengwrt and Hatton Donat 1 from the first. The four manuscipts thus provide us with a good test for the speed with which even early manuscripts developed variants. The textual record for the Hengwrt--Hatton Donat 1 pair is much simpler and involves far fewer variants. Longleat 29, much the earliest example of anthologized material that also appeared in Canterbury Tales manuscripts, shows us that the treatise was circulating apart from Canterbury Tales collections in the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

4 Conclusions

An undercurrent of discomfort with the Parson's Tale and with the Retraction runs through the manuscripts and the earliest printed texts.(23) Four manuscripts omit the Parson's Tale and the Retraction completely. One ceases to copy it at the end of 253 lines. Three manuscripts and the two Caxton editions label it a tractatus by Geoffrey Chaucer, 'ut dicitur pro fabula Rectoris'. In the earliest manuscripts the succession of rubrics for the Retraction, Preces de Chaucer, 'Here taketh the Maker his leve' and 'Here taketh the maker of this bok his leve', indicate a sense that something hard to define has happened in the course of the Parson's Tale, that all the levels of fiction have been dropped and that the author of this book is addressing us in what is no longer a part of even the frame narrative.

The man responsible for MS Arch. Selden B.14, the independently ordered manuscript dated by Manly--Rickert to 1450--70,(24) tried to cut through the ambiguities and be decisive: 'Here enden the talis of Caunterbury and next thauthor taketh leve.' But this has the author still referring to 'this litel tretys' and asking his readers to thank God if there is anything in it pleasing to them. The Parson's Tale and the Retraction resist the attempted separation.

There is some reason in the manuscript treatment of the Retraction as well as in the Retraction's language to question the almost universal acceptance of it as Chaucer's ending for The Canterbury Tales. This acceptance, as reflected in such diverse works as Lee Patterson's 'The "Parson's Tale" and the quitting of the "Canterbury Tales"', Helen Cooper's The Structure of the Canterbury Tales and Donald Howard's The Idea of the Canterbury Tales, is based on the assumption that the production of the Canterbury Tales manuscripts has closer relationship to Chaucer than is warranted by the evidence.(25) Recent work on the manuscripts has pointed in a different direction, namely that at Chaucer's death The Canterbury Tales was a collection of fragments, some of which soon became hard to come by. Scribes and editors were faced with problems of arrangement and with the search for authentic links and tales. The Treatise with the Retraction, appended to the Parson's Prologue as a Parson's Tale, was perhaps not an ending ever intended by Chaucer. It raised questions in the minds of some of its early readers. It should also raise questions in ours.

The Parson's Prologue and the General Prologue prepare us for two contradictory endings. Which of the two is the later? Only a naive critic would assume that position in the completed work determines the order in which the fragments attained their current form, that the plan to bring the work to an end with the Host's judgement of the story-telling contest at the Tabard, because it appears in the General Prologue, was the original one, and that it preceded in conception and composition the plan to end with a Parson's Tale (not the Treatise) at an indefinite 'thropes ende' on the road.(26)

There is also the problem of dating the Treatise on Penitence. Lee Patterson has argued for a very late date for the treatise, concentrating his attention on four instances where imagery and language shared by the Parson's Tale and other tales in the Canterbury collection involve Chaucer's alteration of his sources. The discussion involves such subtleties as the distinction between blasphemy and perjury, an explanation of chastity in widowhood that shows it can be practised within as well as after marriage, and the option of a penitent not to repeat a confession that was integra unless he choose to out of humility. Such distinctions are the constant concern of the Treatise on Penitence; they are at the heart of its subject-matter. It seems highly unlikely that Chaucer developed them in his narrative poems. The evidence Patterson has developed as proof of the influence on the Parson's Tale of a group of pilgrims' narratives attests instead that the influence runs the other way.(27)

Chaucer could not have written the Retraction as it stands if he intended it to bring both the Parson's Tale and The Canterbury Tales to an end. The language of the Retraction makes perfect sense if it is seen as bringing an independent work, the Treatise on Penitence, to an end.(28)


(1)There are eleven with The Canterbury Tales undamaged and as complete as the scribe intended: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 414 (no Cook's Prologue or Tale, Merchant's Tale or Squire's Tale); the Devonshire MS (now Tokyo, MS Takamiya 24); Ellesmere (San Marino, Henry E. Huntington Library, MS 26.C.9); London, British Library, MS Egerton 2864 (includes Siege of Thebes); Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McLean 181 (lacking 2000 lines); Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton Donat 1; Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS English 113; Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, MS f. angl. 39; Sussex, Petworth House; London, British Library, MS Royal 18 C.ii; Oxford, Trinity College, MS Arch. 49.

(2)Jean's influence is evident in the tales that are broken off with comments: the Squire's Tale after twenty-eight lines because 'Ista fabula est valde absurda in terminis', the Monk's Tale after thirty-two 'quia est valde dolorosa'. After thirty lines of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale (after VIII.749) we get the comment: 'Maior pars istius fabule est pretermissa usque huc quia termini sunt valde absurdi.' But the final eighty-eight lines beginning with the words 'Philosophres speken' are included. Thopas breaks off after three stanzas, and the Cook's Prologue and Tale are entirely omitted. Not a word of the prose tales appears, though there is space for the beginning of the Melibeus.

(3)London, British Library, MS Add. 5140 (lacks 4 fols; includes Siege of Thebes); Oxford, Christ Church, MS CLII (lacks 6 fols; includes Siege of Thebes and Ploughman's Tale); Cardigan (now Austin, University of Texas, MS HRC Pre-1700 143) (lacks 7 fols; includes Siege of Thebes); Delamere (now Tokyo, MS Takamiya 8) (lacks 15 fols; lacks Merchant's Prologue); London, British Library, MS Egerton 2726 (lacks last fol.); Cambridge University Library, MS Gg.4.27 (multilated for illuminations); Glasgow, Hunterian Library, MS U.1.1 (lacks 9 fols); London, British Library, MS Harley 1758 (lacks 10 fols); Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.3.26 (lacks 2 fols); London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 851 (lacks 1 fol.); Lichfield Cathedral Library, MS 2 (lacks 4 fols, supplied in later hand, 2 fols, Monk's Prologue); Cambridge University Library, MS Mm.2.5 (lacks 1 fol.); Phillipps 8136 (now at Coligny, Bodmer Library) (lacks 2 fols; no Cook's Prologue or Tale, Merchant's Tale or Squire's Tale); London, Royal College of Physicians, MS 388 (olim MS 13) (lacks 7 fols); Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Arch. Selden B.14 (lacks last fol.); London, British Library, MS Sloan 1686 (lacks 3 fols; Parson's Prologue and Tale not included).

(4)Oxford, New College, MS D.314 (lacks first quire); Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Barlow 20 (lacks first quire; Parson's Prologue and Tale not included); London, British Library, MS Harley 7334 (lacks quire 21).

(5)London, British Library, MS Add. 35286; Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 198; London, British Library, MS Egerton 2863; London, British Library, MS Harley 7333; Helmingham (now Princeton, Firestone Library, MS 100); Hengwrt (Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS Peniarth 392.D); Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud 600; Lincoln, Dean and Chapter Library, MS 110 (= A.4.18); New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS 249; Alnwick, Duke of Northumberland, MS 455 (includes Tale of Beryn); Oxford (= Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS 63 + Philadelphia, Rosenbach Collection, MS 1084/2); Phillipps 6750 (now Austin, University of Texas, MS HRC Pre-1700 46); Phillipps 8137 (now Philadelphia, Rosenbach Collection, MS 1084/1); Oxford, Bodleian Library, MSS Rawlinson Poetry 149 (to end of Retraction) and 233 (to end of Retraction; Monk's Prologue and Tale and Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale not included); London, British Library, MS Royal 17 D.xv; Cambridge, Trinity College, MSS R.3.3, and R.3.15 (to end of Retraction).

(6)Bodley 686 is almost undamaged. It has lost only two leaves in the Canterbury Tales section, the first 184 folios of a total of 216. The quiring at the end of the Tales is completely regular. The handwriting does not change when instead of the Melibeus the 'Tale of the Crow' appears. The dwindling to a close is thus fully intentional. The account of the additions to the Cook's Tale in John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, The Text of the Canterbury Tales, 8 vols (Chicago and London, 1940) (hereafter Manly--Rickert), I, 68, is not accurate: see Charles A. Owen, Jr, The Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer Studies 17 (Cambridge, 1991) p. 25 n. 7.

(7)MS Harley 7333 was written by a number of scribes (Manly--Rickert identify 'six to nine or more' (I, 209)), over a period of time. Three of these worked in The Canterbury Tales. The one responsible for the 253 lines of the Parson's Tale continued for 28 1/2 folios after leaving the 1 1/2 blank. The final quire in The Canterbury Tales originally had another leaf, vii in a quire of 8; vi verso and viii are blank. The scribes were apparently writing for themselves, and started their book in the 1450s.

(8)The b family is the last of the constant groups with more than two manuscripts. The exemplars were being assembled when the paper part of the Helmingham MS was copied, according to Manly--Rickert (I, 257) in the decade of the 1450s. MS New College D.314 is the first extant b manuscript to be based on a complete set of exemplars. Helmingham lacks the Shipman's Tale, the Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale and the end of the Pardoner's Tale.

(9)For a discussion of Caxton's work as an editor of the Canterbury Tales, see Beverly Boyd, 'William Caxton (1422?--1491)', in Editing Chaucer: The Great Tradition, ed. Paul G. Ruggiers (Norman, Okla., 1984) pp. 13--34 (pp. 19--27).

(10)For the evidence that the b portions of T[c.sup.2] were not copied from a mutilated printed text but from exemplars used by Caxton, or ones extremely close, mutilated and to some extent disarranged, see Owen, The Manuscripts, pp. 85--7.

(11)All references to the text of The Canterbury Tales are to The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston, Mass., 1987).

(12)Manly--Rickert, II, 467.

(13)See Owen, The Manuscripts, chs II and III. Possible other complete or almost complete manuscripts, dating from the first thirty years, are MSS Sloane 1685 and Royal 18 C.ii, both dated by Manly--Rickert 1420--50, the vellum Helmingham, BN f. angl. 39 and the fragment Merthyr (Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS 21972D). In addition there were once at least one more c manuscript, which provided copy-text for the late MS Sloane 1686, manuscripts that used the Petworth exemplars before the disarrangement of the VII fragment, and the two manuscripts mentioned in wills in 1417 and 1420.

(14)See Owen, The Manuscripts, pp. 61--3.

(15)Royal College of Physicians 388 uses Hengwrt-derived exemplars for almost all its text, but the number of intermediaries varies with almost every tale. The final quire has stubs for its last seven leaves, two of which would have accommodated the missing text, X.1062--92. MS Bodley 414 is closely associated textually with MS Physicians 388 only at beginning and end, in the I and X fragments. Delamere, Rawlinson Poetry 149, and Trinity Arch. 49 have no headings for the Retraction.

(16)Ellesmere brings the 'secunda pars Penitencie' to a second ending at X.1028.

(17)Eight manuscripts follow this formula exactly: Ellesmere; Fitzwilliam McLean 181; Harley 1758; Lichfield 2; Cambridge University Library, MS Mm.2.5; Phillipps 6750, Petworth and Royal 18 C.ii.

(18)Vance Ramsey has questioned the identity of the scribe in a series of articles, the latest being 'Paleography and scribes of shared training', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 8 (1986), 107--44. For the different view, see J. J. Smith, 'The Trinity Gower D-scribe and his work on two early Canterbury Tales manuscripts', in The English of Chaucer and his Contemporaries: Essays by M. L. Samuels and J. J. Smith, ed. J. J. Smith (Aberdeen, 1988), pp. 51--69. The two manuscripts, Corpus 198 and Harley 7334, have as shared features, in addition to the same scribe, the Gamelyn as Cook's Tale, the Man of Law's endlink, the sequence of fragments at the end, VIII--VI--VII--IX--X, and a similar style of illumination.

(19)For an account of the marginalia in Hengwrt, CUL Dd.4.24 and Ellesmere, see Owen, 'The alternative reading of the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer's text and the early manuscripts', PMLA, 97 (1982), 237--50 (pp. 238--44).

(20)This last of the constant groups inherited a group of exemplars for ten tales and a prologue from the mid-century irregular manuscript Norfolk, Holkham Hall, MS 667. The editor pieced out his copy-text from a variety of sources, coming in contact finally with the Cardigan tradition, from which he got the Parson's Prologue and Tale, some of the links, and the ordering of the fragments.

(21)The a influence for the text of MS Pepys 2006 ceases about 133 lines from the end. A facsimile of the manuscript has appeared in the series sponsored by the Variorum Chaucer: Manuscript Pepys 2006: A Facsimile, ed. A. S. G. Edwards (Norman, Okla., 1985).

(22)MS Longleat 29 shares a great many of the indexing marginalia that are so marked a feature of the Parson's Tale in Ellesmere. It does not have the mistaken explicit for the second part of penitence before the section on the Seven Deadly Sins (see above and n. 16). Longleat starts the section on the Sins, however, with an enormous capital N.

(23)Of the four early printed texts to have the Retraction (Caxton 1478 and 1484, Wynkyn de Worde 1498, Pynson 1526) all but de Worde introduce it with the b incipit that refers to the Parson's Tale as a treatise by Chaucer 'ut dicitur pro fabula Rectoris'. In Wynkyn de Worde's 1498 edition the Retraction is introduced as in Ellesmere. At the end is a colophon for the whole work in the language used by the d manuscripts and Fitzwilliam MacLean 181: 'Here endith this bok of the talis of Caunterbury complied by Geffray Chauceris of whos sowle Jesu Crist have mercy Amen'. Pynson 1492, Thynne 1532, 1542 and 1545, Stowe 1561 and Speght 1598 leave out the Retraction.

(24)For an account of Selden's ordering, see owen, The Manuscripts, pp. 74--6.

(25)All three critics recognize uncertainty about the order but base their critical commentary at crucial points on the validity of manuscript ordering. This holds especially for the Manciple--Parson--Retraction sequence at the end. See Lee Patterson, 'The Parson's Tale and the quitting of the Canterbury Tales', Traditio, XXXIV (1978), 331--80 (pp. 375--80); Helen Cooper, The Structure of the Canterbury Tales (London, 1983), ch. 2, esp. pp. 59--62; Donald R. Howard, The Idea of the Canterbury Tales (Berkeley, Calif., 1976), pp. 210--17, 288--306 and 376--80. For criticism of the acceptance of manuscript ordering, see Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales, Unwin Critical Library (London, 1985), ch. 2 and pp. 52--3; 'Introduction' to Chaucer, ed. A. C. Cawley, Everyman (London and New York, 1992), pp. vii--xii, and The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography (Oxford, 1992), pp. 226--36 and 269--70. For an analysis of the manuscript evidence, see Owen, The Manuscripts.

(26)For a detailed presentation of the evidence on the endings, see Owen, 'The Canterbury Tales: beginnings (3) and endings (2 + 1)', Chaucer Yearbook, 1 (1992), 189--212.

(27)See Patterson, 'The Parson's Tale', pp. 356--70.

(28)The Retraction is in my opinion by Chaucer. If, as suggested by Manly--Rickert (II, 471--2, 503), a priest had written it, intending it as an ending for The Canterbury Tales, he would surely have avoided the ambiguities as to who is speaking, the inaccuracy of calling The Canterbury Tales 'this litel tretys', the foolishness of thanking God for what is pleasing in a work that is being for the most part retracted as 'sowning into synne', and the awkwardness of referring to the work being brought to a conclusion in the middle of a list of other works by the author.
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Title Annotation:in Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'
Author:Owen, Charles A., Jr.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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