The Canterbury Tales as Compilatio

The Canterbury Tales as Compilatio

Hinton, Norman D.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 1 (1984)


Recent Chaucerian scholarship and criticism by Malcom Doyle, A.I. Parkes, and Janet Coleman1 has taken a fresh look at the manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales which may produce fuller knowledge of how Chaucer’s work was viewed by his contemporaries, and perhaps may culminate in a new look at the Canterbury Tales themselves. These publications are recent enough, and the theory of the compilatio unfamiliar enough to literary scholars, that it seems in order to discuss the compilatio theory briefly before I present the computer analysis I have made of the contents of the Canterbury Tales manuscripts. A compilatio is a work which arranges auctoritates in such a way as to produce materials for a discussion of moral or ethical issues: I am not aware of compilationes on other subjects, but would not be surprised to hear of them. The compilatio is carefully ordered. It is typical for compilatio manuscripts to furnish such aids as a table of contents (sometimes analytical), analytical titles, rubrics, running heads, and copious marginal glosses, sometimes with cross-references throughout the collection. Compilationes were often produced in professional manuscript establishments, and it is common for the work to have been parceled out to a number of scribes. In such cases, traces of the work of manuscript supervisors can often be seen, surviving in the form of marks, notes, underlinings, pointings, and the like, to indicate the stages of production and assembly of the completed compilatio, or to note corrections to be made.

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