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c h a p t e r s i x • Editorial and Typographical Diplomacy in the Piers Plowman Archive The following chapter deals primarily with the Piers Plowman Archive, a digitized editorial project that will eventually make available in facsimile some seventy manuscripts of Piers Plowman. Of those CD-ROM volumes published so far, each is focused on a single manuscript represented in both excellent color facsimile and multiple transcriptions. The stated and implied conventions of these transcriptions, called ‘‘style sheets,’’ are my primary subject below. Introduction: From Kane-Donaldson to the Piers Plowman Archive Piers Plowman presents one of the most difficult editorial problems of medieval literature. It has been the subject of several monumental editions in the past century, beginning with W. W. Skeat’s 1885 edition, which defined the now conventional three versions of the text (A, B, and C) and provided an edited version of each. Skeat’s edition was not seriously challenged until the Athlone Press edition of 1960; of particular importance was the second volume of this edition, George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson’s edition of the B-Text in 1975, an edition that provided the basis for what then seemed Kane’s revolutionary rethinking of editorial theory and procedures.1 The Piers Plowman Archive project began as the Athlone Press edition Diplomacy in the Piers Plowman Archive 119 was being completed, exploiting a technology that could well offer an extension of Kane’s theories. Kane, in the B-Text, rejected classical stemmatics. According to the theory of stemmatics, extant manuscripts of any given text could be grouped by families through comparison of significant errors; from these, a stemma could be constructed consisting of past, hypothesized manuscripts , which would in turn lead back to a single, archetypal text that could be represented in a typeset book.2 Kane showed that the rigid manuscript groupings on which classical stemmatics depended were illusory. Like A. E. Housman, whose voice he often seemed to ventriloquize, Kane considered variants as individuals rather than as reliable witnesses to coherent families of manuscripts. In classical editions, the complex variants of manuscripts are often reduced to mysterious Greek sigla in the bottom margin. These represent manuscript families (an example can be seen in the brief textual notations at the foot of each page in the Oxford Classical Texts series). Kane’s edition uses only roman sigla, each representing a single manuscript. A manuscript reading is thus treated as an individual, and manuscripts are no longer grouped as stable families; rather, the grouping of manuscripts around their particular variant readings reveals their constantly shifting relations.3 Yet Kane’s edition still looks like and functions as a classical edition; evidence in a series of line-by-line notes remains subordinated to a text, and this text has all the appearance of being an ‘‘authoritative’’ one, including the magisterial brackets indicating editorial emendations.4 An electronic edition could theoretically take Kane’s work farther. The electronically constructed text would shed the mystique of ultimate authority, and reflect rather the variance of evidence, embodying whatever it is literary scholars mean by textual mouvance .5 In 2000, the first volume of the Piers Plowman Archive appeared, an edition of Manuscript F.6 The title ‘‘Archive’’ spoke to the editorial objective: what the editorial project would provide was a compendium or repository of evidence that the reader could use to discover ‘‘things’’ about Piers or Langland or medieval culture, without the editorial intervention of the authoritative editor seeking the authoritative text of the authoritative author. This goal, although often contradicted, was directly stated at several points in the introductory material to the first few volumes: From F: Such an ‘‘objective’’ level of interpretation [the transcription in the ‘‘scribal style sheet’’] is likely to be useful to scholars working on a wide variety of questions . . . 120 chapter six From M: [The corrections] provide striking information about the standards of spelling in Middle English when taken as a whole . . . From W (in reference to the new layout in W): At the very least this new layout offers a different reading experience; time will tell whether it will have consequences for the appreciation and criticism of the poem.7 Like other projects (the Canterbury Tales Project and the William Blake Archive to be discussed briefly below), the Piers Plowman Archive is incomplete , and, given the number of manuscripts, likely to stay incomplete for the lifetimes or careers of its founders.8 The editors...


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