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A Stemmatic Analysis of the 15th-Century Witnesses to the Wife of Bath's Prologue

Robinson, Peter M. W.

Presents the results of a stemmatic analyis of the fifty-eight fifteenth-century witnesses to The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.  This analysis is based on the transcripts and collations of these witnesses published on Robinson's CD-ROM of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue (Cambridge UP 1996), and uses the techniques outlined in his article (with Robert O’Hara) on computer-assisted stemmatic analysis published in the first volume of the Canterbury Tales Project Occasional Papers (Office for Humanities Communication, 1993). It details fully the fundamental witness groups established by the project, corresponding to Manly and Rickert's groups A B C D. Most significantly: it is the first publication to establish what is called the "O variants": readings present in around ten manuscripts which tend not to appear in any of the fundamental witness groups, and which are hypothesized as likely to have been present in the original for the whole tradition but which scribes typically replaced. The lectio difficilior character of these variants ("as a compendium of just what scribes found difficult in Chaucer’s poetic", p. 102) leads to the conclusion that "the authorial character of these variants confirms the hypothesis that the witnesses of group O are united only in their closeness to the ancestor of the whole tradition" (p. 103). Note that the use of the phrase "group O" could be mistakenly taken to imply that they are a genetic group: later publications speak of "O manuscripts" and "O variants", not of an O group.

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