115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mixing Modern and Middle English: John Urry’s 1721 edition and the 1807 Chaucer

Simone Celine Marshall, University of Otago

My research investigates whether it may be too simplistic to state that an edition of Chaucer is either in Middle English or in Modern English. It seems to me that in some 18th and 19th century editions, some editors knowingly used elements of both languages.

 

Proposal: 

In 2011 I discovered a previously unknown edition of the Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1807. In subsequent years, I have embarked on a project to determine the significance of this edition, and what it brings to the great tradition of editing Chaucer.

My research has identified a signficant feature of editing Chaucer that seems to have been overlooked in much research: the role of modernised editions of Chaucer.

One’s assumption may be that these were editions were produced for those unable to easily read the Middle English editions, and yet the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, the readership for the modernised editions of Chaucer frequently seems to have been the same as for the Middle English editions. The writers who produced these modernised texts were engaged in an act, not of simplifying the texts for wider consumption, but ‘improving’ the texts for the more erudite reader already familiar with the Middle English texts.

Amongst the editions of Chaucer is John Urry’s (1721), often maligned for its apparently poor editiorial methods, but more recently rehabilitated for its wide influence. Into this mix, too, falls the 1807 edition of Chaucer. These editions bring to light a previously overlooked element of the editorial process: it may be too simplistic to state that an edition of Chaucer is either in Middle English or in Modern English. It may well be that editors knowingly used elements of both langauges. This, I argue, has occurred in both Urry’s and the 1807 edition.