O, why ne had y lerned for to die?:Lerne for to Dye and the Author’s Death in Thomas Hoccleve’s Series
von Nolcken, Christina
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 10 (1993)
Few modern readers have considered any more of the work we call Thomas Hoccleve’s Series (c. 1421-26) than its closely associated opening parts, the “Prologue” and Hoccleve’s “Complaint.” Admittedly, Hoccleve studies remain rudimentary. Admittedly too, the highly personalized nature of these parts helps ensure their appeal today. That modern readers have been slow to consider the Series a whole, however, must also be because in its fiction as well as in fact it encourages us to think of it as no more than a manuscript miscellany. It consists of what is indeed a series of texts, five old, six or so new. Together, these fall loosely into sections (I count five), each adding to the last in what could be an indefinitely extendible process. The old texts represent Hoccleve’s renderings of various existing works from Latin into English. And the new texts show Hoccleve or a version of Hoccleve actually assembling the book we are reading. It is not a process that ever seems to have involved much advance planning on his part; rather, his book seems to be coming together mainly thanks to whim and to whatever exemplars he happened to have access at a particular time. And although this book more than once seems on the point of ending, assembling it is not a process Hoccleve ever seems to have completed.