By Peter Brown
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Additional resources for A companion to Chaucer
Chaucer’s Retraction (ParsT 1081–92) In his own work Chaucer seems to have demonstrated a remarkable prescience about many of the issues that would arise in response to his writing. In the Retraction at the end of the Canterbury Tales, in the House of Fame and in the lyric addressed to Adam Scriveyn, he identiﬁes three topics that seem to cause him anxiety: concern with the tone and subject of his work, concern for the mutability of fame and the status of the great author, and concern about the faithful transmission of his text.
W. W. Skeat’s six-volume (ultimately seven-volume) edition of 1894–7 provided such a text. Heir to nineteenthcentury popular interest in Chaucer (it was also available in a ‘student’s edition’ presumably designed for the average educated reader), it proved to be a text for scholars, not for the educated public. The publication of Skeat’s edition, coupled with the founding of the Chaucer Society to edit and propagate his works, had an unintended consequence: increasingly Chaucer and his writing became the province of scholars whose interest lay with text and manuscript.
In the case of the texts, we have a series of manuscripts, each of which acts like a unique set of binoculars, adjusted to somebody else’s eyesight. Each set is focused differently in the ﬁne detail of its account of the text. For the editor the medieval poem is accordingly something of an aspiration, a hardest idea, somewhere between, behind, or above the network of available scribal variations in any given line. Chaucer’s poems survive for each line somewhere mid-way in a band of possible scribal variation on either side.
A companion to Chaucer by Peter Brown