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Scribal Authorship and the Writing of History in Medieval England

Matthew Fisher

Publication Year: 2012

Based on new readings of some of the least-read texts by some of the best-known scribes of later medieval England, Scribal Authorship and the Writing of History in Medieval England reconceptualizes medieval scribes as authors, and the texts surviving in medieval manuscripts as authored. Culling evidence from history writing in later medieval England, Matthew Fisher concludes that we must reject the axiomatic division between scribe and author. Using the peculiarities of authority and intertextuality unique to medieval historiography, Fisher exposes the rich ambiguities of what it means for medieval scribes to “write” books. He thus frames the composition, transmission, and reception—indeed, the authorship—of some medieval texts as scribal phenomena. History writing is an inherently intertextual genre: in order to write about the past, texts must draw upon other texts. Scribal Authorship demonstrates that medieval historiography relies upon quotation, translation, and adaptation in such a way that the very idea that there is some line that divides author from scribe is an unsustainable and modern critical imposition. Given the reality that a scribe’s work was far more nuanced than the simplistic binary of error and accuracy would suggest, Fisher completely overturns many of our assumptions about the processes through which manuscripts were assembled and texts (both canonical literature and the less obviously literary) were composed.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-6

List of Abbreviations

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pp. vi-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is a profound pleasure to work closely with medieval manuscripts, and thus it is a pleasure to acknowledge the institutions that have made that work possible. I wish to thank the staff at All Souls College, Oxford; Balliol College, Oxford; Bodleian Library, Oxford; The British Library; Cambridge University Library; ...

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pp. 1-13

To write is to create something, to invent something, to bring meaning into being through words in a way that did not exist before. Yet writing is also mechanical—the physical act of putting pencil or pen to paper, tracing letters so impossibly familiar that we tend not to register their shapes or how we execute them. ...

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One: The Medieval Scribe

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pp. 14-58

What constitutes sameness and difference has troubled thinkers from Plato to Aquinas to Benjamin, from Hegel to Heidegger to Derrida. Philosophers have challenged the relationship between Idea and Being, argued over how objects exist and how they are perceived, and interrogated the nature of the connections between “an” original and “a” copy.1 ...

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Two: Authority, Quotation, and English Historiography

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pp. 59-99

Copying is an act that can have consequences. It entails a series of complex choices about sources and audience, and enacts a variety of transformations. Copying can be rhetorical, and thus political—a moment of translation, that is, rather than transparent transposition. ...

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Three: History’s Scribes—The Harley Scribe

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pp. 100-145

Chapters 3 and 4 will turn to some of the least-read texts in two of the best-known books written by two of the best-known scribes of early fourteenth century England: the Harley Scribe, responsible for copying three manuscripts including London, BL, MS Harley 2253, and Scribe 1 of the Auchinleck manuscript.1 ...

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Four: The Auchinleck Manuscript and the Writing of History

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pp. 146-187

The Auchinleck manuscript has been called many things by many critics, and read in many different ways, but no critic has ever called the book unimportant. It is a thick book, preserving some forty-three items in Middle English and one piece in Anglo-Norman in the 331 folios that survive intact in the codex.1 ...

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pp. 188-192

Medieval history writing encouraged some scribes to assemble compilations, others to craft derivative texts, and still others to become scribal authors. The extraordinary number of surviving manuscripts of the Middle English prose Brut is comparable to another very different text, the Wycliffite Bible.1 ...


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pp. 204-207


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pp. 193-212

Manuscript Index

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pp. 213-214

General Index

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pp. 215-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270318
E-ISBN-10: 081427031X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211984
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211984

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 10 halftones, 3 color images
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture
Series Editor Byline: Ethan Knapp