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Editing the Formulaic Romance Style: The Poetics of Repetition in the Roman des Sept Sages Mary B. Speer A S KARL UITTI HAS RECOGNIZED, the concept of “grid edit­ ing” reaffirms the centrality of poetics in any editorial enterprise that is not strictly diplomatic or narrowly documentary. Signifi­ cantly, the concept itself is grounded in a specific text by an identifiable author. It was formulated, gradually, by Alfred Foulet while he was pre­ paring a critical edition of Chrétien de Troyes’ Lancelot.' For the Lancelot and other romances by Chrétien, “grid editing” provides a flexible heuristic tool that complements stemmatics. The stylistic grid induced from divergent manuscript readings allows a painstaking editor to identify fairly systematically what is sometimes called the usus auctoris and thus to select authentic readings with moderate confidence. For both editors and readers, the poetic advantages of coming closer to the authentic text of a great craftsman like Chrétien surely outweigh the disadvantages that necessarily accompany any editing method based on conjectural literary scholarship.2 If, then, grid editing holds promise for Chrétien’s romances, to what degree can the concept be extended to other Old French poets and other types of textual tradition? Are there texts for which one cannot construct an authorial grid? Obviously, there are. Yet by applying some of the critical procedures for grid construction to one such case, the Roman des Sept Sages, I hope to shed light on that text and by contrast on the condi­ tions that make an authorial grid feasible. My inquiry will show that the two extant redactions of this formulaic romance exploit techniques of repetition in characteristically different ways that are poetically meaning­ ful. Focusing on their differences will even permit us to draw some tenta­ tive conclusions about the style of the anonymous author. First, let us review briefly the manuscript tradition of the Roman des Sept Sages. Connoisseurs of frame tales will remember this romance as an antifeminist concoction set in motion when a queen attempts to seduce her adolescent stepson. Rebuffed, she accuses him of trying to rape her. A narrative duel of fifteen tales follows: seven told by the Queen to persuade her husband to order his son’s death, seven told by 34 Spr in g 1987 S peer the Prince’s tutors, the Seven Sages of Rome, to convince the King to stay the execution until clear evidence of guilt is obtained, and a final story told by the Prince to exonerate himself. When the Queen is at last defeated by masculine narrative virtuosity, she confesses her crime and is burned at the stake. The oldest French version of this enormously popular story collection is a verse romance in octosyllabic couplets, composed probably between 1155 and 1190. It was preserved until World War II in two manuscripts: Paris, B.N. fr. 1553 (K) and Chartres, Bibl. muhic. 620 (Q. K, still extant, contains the entire romance in 5068 lines. C, which perished in 1944, offered a composite of prose and verse, with somewhat more than the first half in prose and the last seven and one-half stories—a total of some 2078 lines—in verse. K has received two critical editions, the first by H. A. Keller (Tübingen: L. F. Fues, 1836), the second by Jean Misrahi (Paris: Droz, 1933); C remained unpublished until H. A. Smith’s diplo­ matic transcription appeared in 1912 (Romanic Review 3, 1-69).3 These historical accidents of publication dates and formats have shaped our critical perception of the romance. Indeed, Keller’s early edi­ tion made the K text accessible to pioneering nineteenth-century scholars who gave us our first studies of twelfth-century versification and stylistics.4One result has been that anyone referring to the Sept Sages poet was almost certainly talking about the agent responsible for the K redaction. Such confidence that the poet’s composition could be equated with K or even that one could speak of the poet at all faded as the text of C became known until, in 1933, Misrahi questioned the validity of any reference to the Sept Sages author.5 For the last fifty years Misrahi’s pessimism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 34-52
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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