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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge, University Library, MS. Dd.4.24 (Dd) is one of the earliest surviving manuscripts of the <i>Canterbury Tales</i>. Textually, Dd contains the 'canonical' tales of the <i>Canterbury Tales</i> running from the General Prologue to the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, but the last part of the manuscript is defective, and it is impossible to say how Dd ended. The content and order of the tales in Dd are very close to <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>California, San Marino, Huntington Library MS. El. 26 C 9</a> - also known as the 'Ellesmere manuscript' (El) - another famous manuscript of this poem which is often used in modern editions of this poem. There is evidence in Dd that the scribe had to make decisions in the sequence of the tales as well as in the inclusion of contested passages. For instance, the missing paragraph between ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(178);return false;'>105v-106r</a> at the beginning of the Merchant's Tale indicates that a paper leaf was replaced (Da Rold, 2003). The scribe of Dd also included a rarely corrected version of the extra passages in the <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Wife of Bath's Prologue</a> (Da Rold, 2007), which supports the thesis that the Dd scribe was working collaboratively in a location not too distant from a supply of exemplars.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was produced at the turn of the fifteenth century. It is the only surviving early witness of this Chaucerian text to be written on paper. Paper by the beginning of the fifteenth century was a familiar object in English book production and beyond. And yet, despite many attempts, the paper-stocks in Dd have yet not been identified with certainty.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The paper is a thin, laid, watermarked paper folded in a quarto format. From an approximate calculation each sheet measured c. 580 mm x 400 mm before folding but after it was trimmed. This is a large size of paper, of a type known as 'Royal'. Accounts tell us that Royal paper was more expensive than other types of paper and it was bought by clerks in several writing environments, including the royal household, with evidence from about 1350s. Iconographically, Dd's paper stocks include watermarks comprising twin dragons in Quires 1-8 and a dog in Quire 9. Despite much discussion, it is still impossible to identify these watermarks in published albums because the size of the paper is not the same. Those watermarks that have been often compared to the one in Dd are imprinted on 'Chancery' paper (a smaller size of paper) and therefore cannot have come from the same mould. The only exact matches that I have identified to date relate to the dog paper stock. They can be found in other two manuscripts in Cambridge University Library's collections: MS Ii.5.41, a copy of John Trevisa's translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus, <i>De Proprietaribus Rerum</i>, ff. 37-38 and MS Dd.1.1, a miscellany including a copy of the Northern Homilies, ff. 16-215.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript bears the possible name of its scribe, 'Wytton,' inscribed on several folios: at the end of the Knight's Tale (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(49);return false;'>39r</a>), the Miller's Tale (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(65);return false;'>47r</a>) and the Summoner's Tale (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(151);return false;'>92r</a>). Dd has often puzzled scholars, who on the one hand have praised the quality of its text and some of its codicological features, but on the other have considered the manuscript as the work of an amateur in a provincial milieu, probably a university student (Manly and Rickert, 1940, 1, p. 105). However, a recent and more compelling argument suggests that the scribe of Dd likely belonged to a network of scribes operating in London, with access to informed insights into the early development of the <i>Canterbury Tales</i> text and the genesis of its tale-order, shedding light on the literary and cultural milieu of the time. Dd opens a window into the rich context of medieval literary culture, offering an enduring legacy to the creation and circulation of the <i>Canterbury Tales</i> and its place in literary history. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Orietta da Rold<br /> Professor of Medieval Literature and Manuscript Studies<br /> University of Cambridge</p>

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