The often underestimated task of editing texts is frequently seen as thankless and one where only the private satisfaction of getting something precisely right keeps the editor going. Janet Hadley Williams has nevertheless made it an important part of her scholarship, and as she is a brilliant editor these poems will charm even the reader who looks no further than the edited text and the explanatory notes that make clear the meaning and the possible ambiguity of the choice of Scottish words.
The volume has far more to offer, however. The initial introduction to the texts takes each poem individually and explains the source or sources in which it is found (the 'witness' to the text), and the differences between the versions, the date and the possible authorship as well as the genre. In discussing the genre, Hadley Williams briefly considers others of the type, implicit references to better-known poems, and the overall place of these texts in a tradition going back to Ovid and beyond, material that situates Scottish verse well within the whole contemporary European context. These are poems some of which may have had a wide circulation outside the narrow confines of the court and elite households and their variety suggests a more sophisticated general audience than is usually assumed. Some poems, however, she suggests may have had a restricted audience because they were politically sensitive. She shows convincingly that the poem popularly known as 'MacGregouris testament', written after the execution of the outlaw who is the notional author, with its detailed understanding of family networks, local disputes, and legal issues, was one such. [End Page 273]
Hadley Williams's detailed knowledge of the period makes the circumstances in which the texts were produced clear and in doing so she reveals aspects of politics that have been largely ignored. The utility of this work extends well beyond the purely literary.