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Title: Codicological evidence of reading in late medieval England, with particular reference to practical pastoral verse
Author: Sawyer, Daniel
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 5450
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This study advances and adds detail to our history of the reading of verse in England c.1350-1500. Scholarship has established major twelfth- and thirteenth-century changes in reading, and linked these changes to manuscripts containing the modern Middle English verse canon. Historians of early modern reading have also argued for distinctive changes in their own period. But the examination of reading between these two clusters of change has been limited. This study therefore asks how later medieval Middle English verse was read. The surviving copies of The Prick of Conscience and Speculum Vitae, two hugely successful religious instructional poems, form the primary body of evidence. This body is augmented by reference to hundreds of other manuscripts containing Middle English verse. Together, these can reveal much about what was normal and abnormal in reading. They are also an important part of the context for the reading of more canonical Middle English verse. Manuscript studies often proceeds through case studies of individual books and unusual evidence such as marginalia. This thesis turns to codicology to understand more widespread evidence for reading, combining qualitative case studies with quantitative techniques borrowed and developed from continental scholarship. The first chapter examines evidence of provenance, revealing that both The Prick of Conscience and Speculum Vitae were read by an impressive range of people and remained current into the sixteenth century. The second chapter considers the navigational aids used in copies of both poems. Reading in this period has been characterised as 'discontinuous', but it could be discontinuous in diverse ways, and readers also read continuously. The third chapter is a large-scale study of books' size and shape, showing how these features can reveal books' reading histories, sometimes in counterintuitive ways. The fourth chapter contends that readers in this period attended closely to rhyme and probably read for balanced rhyme structures. The fifth chapter uncovers the ways in which these poems were rewritten for new readers and investigates the composition of the Southern Recension of The Prick of Conscience, arguing that this new text was partly a formalist intervention. The conclusion summarises the new 'baseline' history of the reading of Middle English verse which is offered here, and gestures towards implications for our reading of the Middle English poems which are canonical today.
Supervisor: Wakelin, Daniel Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English literature--Middle English ; 1100-1500--History and criticism ; Pastoral poetry ; English--History and criticism ; Books and reading--Great Britain--History--To 1500 ; Codicology ; Literature and society--Great Britain--History--To 1500