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REVIEWS It may be said with only small exaggeration that medieval literature is about the shifting of value in Western thought from a realm of public to one of private experience, the construction and valorization ofan individual subjectivity. The problem with such a powerful and fundamental idea is that it is rather hard to control---once granted the authority to act as a master narrative, it rampages with autocratic abandon across all ofWestern literature. Spearing draws a number of ancillary ideas into his spotlight, from the potent and quite public gaze of Theseus in The Knight's Tale to poetic representations of the female psyche by a male poet who can only wonder, never know, what women really think when they are alone. Not all such observations are directly dependent on his thesis, but all are intrigu­ ing, and all are elegantly and often vigorously stated. A measure of the success of Spearing's argument is that one is willing to follow the train of his thought wherever it leads and allow his gaze to linger over familiar moments which suddenly appear strange and strange moments which, after his analysis, seem uncomfortably familiar. Roy M. LrnzzA Tulane University STEPHEN SPECTOR, ed. The N-TOUJn Play: Cotton MS Vespasian D.8. 2 vols. Early English Text Society, s.s.'11, 12. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. lviii, 661. Vol. 1, $59.00; vol. 2 $45.00. We know, with certainty, relatively little about the collection of plays called N-Town preserved in British Library manuscript Cotton Vespasian D.8. Their institutional auspices and precise geographical origin remain hidden from view, as do the circumstances that led to their composition and compilation. Even the very name "N-Town," derived from the procla­ mation text that opens the collection, withholds more than it delivers. That it has only recently emerged as the preferred designation for a group of plays identified previously under other aliases-Ludus Coventriae, Hegge cycle, Lincoln plays-furnishes sufficient testimony to the complex problems that the N-Town plays still present to modern readers. Stephen Spector's new edition of the N-Town codex for the Early English Text 275 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Society marks an important development in the long effort to comprehend the historical, literacy, and social importance of this eclectic and remarkable collection. The product of nineteen years' labor, Spector's edition is significantly informed by the findings of his important earlier work on the codicological and textual features of the N-Town manuscript, beginning with his Yale University dissertation of 1973 and extending through a series of articles analyzing the prosody, watermarks, and provenance of the N-Town codex. Volume 1 of the present edition includes an introduction, select bibliogra­ phy, a table of lines corresponding to K. S. Block's 1922 edition of the plays for BETS, and the text of the N-Town plays. Volume 2 contains Spector's commentary on the text; a set of appendices addressing the N-Town plays' composition and development, staging, and overall design; a glossary; and an index of proper names. Though this edition follows BETS editorial guidelines restricting the inclusion of interpretive commen­ tary, the supporting materials that Spector is able to provide here offer a comprehensive overview of the state of the debate about the N-Town plays' more controversial aspects. Taken together with his superb glossary of N-Town's difficult language, these introductory essays and appendices make Spector's edition a principal advance over the otherwise still useful edition by Block that it replaces. Much of the scholarly speculation about the N-Town plays has focused on the origins of the cycle, if it may be called that, and the process by and purpose for which it came into being. The work of a scribe-compiler­ reviser who, perhaps as late as the 1490s, altered his texts even as he incorporated them into the comprehensive history ofthe world play he was apparently trying to achieve, the East Anglian N-Town codex exhibits a wide variety of play types, verse forms, and dramatic styles. In addition to the proclamation, the N-Town collection includes a group of plays...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 275-278
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
N
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