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The New Reader and Female Textuality in Two Early Commentarieson Chaucer Susan Schibanoff University ofNew Hampshire TANONYMOUS GLOSSES m ma,ginal annotations that appm in almost halfofthe fifty-eight complete manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales provide a rich-but neglected-source of reader response to Chaucer's poetry. Although Chaucerians have begun to explore how Chaucer's con­ temporaries reacted to his works, we have been slow to examine these glosses.1 Several obvious reasons for our relative disregard of them come to mind. Perhaps the most important is that access to these marginalia remains difficult. 2 But even were this material ready to hand in facsimile or 1 See, for instance, the following articles in Studies in the Age ofChaucer alone: B. A. Windeatt, "The Scribes as Early Chaucer Critics," 1 (1979):119-41; Anne Middleton, "The Clerk and His Tale: Some Literary Contexts," 2 (1980):121-50; Beryl Rowland, "Pronuntiatio and Its Effect on Chaucer's Audience," 4 (1982):33-51; Paul Strohm, "Chaucer's Fifteenth­ Century Audience and the Narrowing of the 'Chaucer Tradition,"' 4 (1982):3-32; John M. Bowers, "The Tale ofBeryn and The Siege ofThebes: Alternative Ideas of The Canterbury Tales," 7 (1985):23-50; and Charlotte C. Morse, "The Exemplary Griselda," 7 (1985):51-86. But, as Derek Pearsall remarks, "more needs to be done" to assess readers' reactions to Chaucer, and he urges the "meticulousstudy of particular manuscripts" and their marginalia, since "such comments are important, especiallyin the absence of other kinds of information, for the evidence they provide of a reader's critical response to Chaucer in thefifteenth century" ("Texts, Textual Criticism, and Fifteenth Century Manuscript Production," in Robert E Yeager, ed., Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays [Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1984], pp. 130-31). My article takes up Pearsall's call to see in the glosses readers' interpretations of Chaucer rather than, as has often been the case so far, evidence with which to settle such paleographicalquestions as thechronology of manuscripts of the Tales or such literary issues as Chaucer's sources, methods of revision, and so forth. 2 In their descriptions of "special features" of manuscripts of the Tales (vol. 1, passim) and their chapter on glosses (3.483-527),John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, eds., The Text ofthe "Canterbury Tales" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), indicate which Chaucer manuscripts are glossed. The glosses themselves, however, have not been edited, nor is there a complete transcription orfacsimile of all of them.Eight of the glosses on Chaucer manuscripts have been fully transcribed by EJ. Furnivall: Ellesmere, Hengwrt 154, Cambridge University Gg.4.27, Corpus Christi 198, Petworth, and Lansdowne 851 in The Six-Text Edition of 71 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER edited form, we would still have to struggle to interpret the kind of response to Chaucer's text that we find in most glosses. Only inrare cases do these marginalia make direct comment on Chaucer's text: "verum est" is one glossator's unequivocal assent to the Wife ofBath's claim that no man can swear as boldly as a woman can, and "nota bene" signals another glossator's obvious interest in, if not precise attitude toward, a proverb in The Knight's Tale.3 In equally unambiguous fashion, another glossator registers moral disapproval of the misplaced kiss in The Miller's Tale by means ofthe marginal warning "nota malum quid."4 And, citing Proverbs 21:19 ("Better to live alone in the desert than with a nagging and ill­ tempered wife"), yet another glossator makes it quite clear that he prefers silent and agreeable women.5 More often, however, the glosses on The Canterbury Tales do not offer us such straightforward commentary, and as modern readers we find ourselves in the ironic position of having to gloss the glosses, that is, of having to explicatetheirmeaning or significance. In particular, we mustinterpretthe source gloss, by far the mostcommon type of marginal annotation on The Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer Society Publications, 1st ser. (London: N. Triibner, 1868-77); Harley 7334 in The Harleian MS 7334 ofthe Canterbury Tales, Chaucer Society Publications, 1st ser., vol. 73 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner, 1885); and Cambridge University Dd...