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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER PETER ROBINSON, ed. Chaucer: The Wife ofBath's Prologue on CD-ROM. The Canterbury Tales Project. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 1 computer disk; 80 pp. booklet. $240.00. This is the first installment of the Canterbury Tales Project, an under­ taking that proposes to make available all data fundamental to recon­ structing the textual history ofChaucer's poem. It is an impressive first installment, certain to make evident the value ofthe larger Project and likely to become a benchmark for similar products in other literary and historical specialties. It demands that its users develop skills with mouse and computer screen well beyond what I suspect most Chaucerians have, and it demands care, even caution, in deriving its ex­ traordinary data. It rewards these skills and this caution with a view of the future and with complete textual data for The Wife ofBath's Prologue, data available in no other single source, including Manly and Rickert's The Text ofthe Canterbury Tales. The CD-ROM contains facsimile-quality digital images of all fifty­ eight fifteenth-century witnesses to the Wife's Prologue (some 1,200 pages of fifty-four manuscripts and four printed editions), transcrip­ tions ofthese witnesses in both regularized and unregularized spelling, word-by-word collations of the transcriptions, and, as described in the booklet that accompanies the disk, "spelling databases grouping every occurrence of every spelling of every word in every witness by lemma and grammatical category" (p. 13). The disk also includes Daniel W. Mosser's codicological descriptions of each of the fifty-eight witnesses (a preliminary version of the materials for Mosser's anticipated Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Pre-1500 Printed Editions of the Canterbury Tales) and Stephen Partridge's transcriptions and colla­ tions ofall glosses to the Wife's Prologue. Mosser and Partridge each pro­ vides an essay that introduces the principles underlying his contribu­ tion. Further, the disk contains two essays reprinted from The Canterbury Tales Project Occasional Papers Volume I (see SAC 17 (1995}: 301, no. 23): one by Robinson and Elizabeth Solopova on the theory and principles of transcription of the witnesses, and one by Norman Blake on editing The Canterbury Tales. The manuscript images on the disk can be magnified or printed. Collations and spelling databases are available at the click of a mouse, as are lists that enable comparison of a given line in the witnesses that contain it. Split-screen technology makes it possible to compare manuscript with manuscript, transcript with manuscript, or multiple 318 REVIEWS combinations of .L,lU,,cript, transcript, and apparatus. The base text for the ccillations is "a very lightly edited" version ofthe Hengwrt man­ uscript, but the collations can be read against any ofthe fifty-eight wit­ nesses. The disk is fully searchable in both normal language and SGML code. The data can be cut-and-pasted into word processors, and users can add their own hypertext links, bookmarks, and annotations to the disk. Robinson estimates that the disk contains somewhere around 10 million items of information about individual words, their parts of speech, variant spellings, and relations with other occurrences, etc. These data are tied together in a web of some two million hypertext links. God's plenty indeed. Such a summary description ofthe materials on the disk and the ways they can be used disguises the work's enormous potential and its possi­ bilities for confusing or frustrating its users. Computer adepts will cap­ italize on the gold mine ofinformation without having to pause long in confusion. Computer preliterates will probably never get past the con­ fusion. Most of us, however, have much to learn much from the disk, not only about the manuscripts of The Wife of Bath's Prologue but also about computer technology. In a month or two of working recurrently with the disk, I have learned how to make my own links and annota­ tions, how to develop sophisticated searches, how to toggle between the CD-ROM and various word processors, etc. In short, I have learned how to manipulate the technology to move toward using the vast quantities of information here, although I do not imagine that I...


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pp. 318-323
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