Editing and the Teaching of Alliterative Verse.
The paucity of manuscript witnesses to works of alliterative poetry, combined with the possibility of multiple authorship in some cases, makes the establishing of a distinctive authorial usus scribendi – and hence some form of direct editing – open to question. Possible forms of composition of alliterative poetry, often tending toward stock collocations and formulas, lend little support to an interventionist approach to recover originality. The editor thus must confront the responsibility to make the audience aware not only of the indeterminacy of his or her text, but of the extent of that indeterminacy. Donatelli’s edition of Death and Liffe and Hanna’s edition of the Awntyrs of Arthur demonstrate how different editorial methodologies imply very different audiences. Donatelli’s decision to eschew radical emendation in the face of a highly problematic text presupposes an audience of fellow scholars who will add their own scholia of commentary and (perhaps) speculative emendation, providing a text of limited usefulness to undergraduate and possibly graduate students. Conversely, Hanna’s energetic editorial intervention produces a text that does not address the needs of a student audience which may not grasp the extent to which the literary structure they seek to understand is shaped by modern editorial intervention. The search for a text appropriate for classroom use must involve the search for a via media, one that presents the text responsibly but without taking the implications of the textual evidence to a point where that evidence, rather than the study of the literary work, becomes the main focus. The teaching of Middle English literature requires some introduction to the textual problems of the materials involved, a recognition that “the text” is more appropriately seen as “a state of a text.” Additionally, the protocols of annotation and explication may vary for alliterative texts, with glossing not restricted to single words but to larger units. Commentary should not be limited to identifying collocations within texts, but should also seek to elucidate the dynamic nature of the language of the text as literary artifact, to relate lexis to poetic structure.