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Sarot, Marcel, and Gijsbert van den Brink, eds. These points are worth stressing because they remind us that the form in which we read Chaucer in modern editions is one far removed from the manuscript forms in which his works survive. In important respects the modern forms of Chaucer give his poems an appearance of order that they have not historically possessed. No manuscript has a layout that corresponds to its carefully set out pages, with line numbers, glosses, running heads and carefully regularized punctuation and orthography.
It seems to have been the case that Chaucer had little interest in such questions of order and regularity. There is no evidence that Chaucer ever sought to bring his works together in any systematic way. Nor did posterity feel much need to remedy this lack. This manuscript, now Cambridge University Library Gg.
It comes at the very end of the fifteenth century, in a manuscript that is now Oxford, Bodleian Library, Arch. Here a number of the poems in Gg. But to an even greater degree the Chaucerian contents are blended with other fifteenth-century materials: poems by Lydgate, Hoccleve and Walton, and a number of further items with Scottish connections. The Chaucerian core of the collection seems to have been seen as one that could be enlarged by the inclusion of what were felt to be cognate although uncanonical works.
These two collections are unusual in their scope.
Of the sixteen complete manuscripts of Troilus and Criseyde that survive, in the substantial majority it is the primary or sole content see Root Of the fifty-five manuscripts that seem to have included some approximation to the full text of the Canterbury Tales, forty-six contain only this work. There is no clear evidence that his dream visions, the Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame and the Parliament of Fowls, circulated separately, nor did the Legend of Good Women. These works were instead incorporated into larger collections, usually conjoined with the verse of others.
These three manuscripts, copied over a period of about fifty years, show considerable similarities in content. Edwards both of the other manuscripts. It is only with the advent of print that we perceive the first attempts to assemble Chaucer into forms that correspond to our modern reading experience.
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When William Caxton set up the first printing press in England in Westminster about he chose the Canterbury Tales as his first major book; he produced a second edition, with illustrations, in about , and in the same year printed the first edition of Troilus and Criseyde. Other early English printers were quick to follow his example. The material forms in which his texts circulated during the fifteenth century, however, have an important role in the body of evidence about reception and response. Few of them can be linked with the ranks of the nobility.
The most distinctive association of any of his writings with a noble audience is embodied in the readership of Troilus and Criseyde.
One manuscript of it contains the arms of the future Henry V, whose interest in vernacular poetry was to develop after he became king, through his patronage of Lydgate and Hoccleve. In contrast, few of the far larger number of Canterbury Tales manuscripts can be associated with the nobility. The former Devonshire manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, now in a private collection in Japan, a very large and elaborately decorated copy, invites the same assumption; it has been argued that it was owned by Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.
But in general Canterbury Tales manuscripts do not lend themselves to a hypothesis that links physical form to social class. Few other manuscripts can be linked very securely to any particular group or social category. Some manuscripts do have affiliations to religious houses or individual religious.
For example, London, British Library MS Harley , a large collection that unites the Canterbury Tales with a number of other works, was evidently prepared in the Augustinian house of St Mary le Pratis, in Leicestershire, in the mid-fifteenth century. In general though, it is not possible to establish with certainty very much about the earliest owners or readers of manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In so far as their provenance can be established, they seem to have been owned by a relatively wide social spectrum in the fifteenth century.
This spectrum included a number of members of the gentry, as demonstrated by London, British Library MS Sloane , which seems to have been in the possession of the family of Sir Thomas Neville d. The different dialects of their copyists indicate that while many of these manuscripts were prepared within London or its environs, their geographical origins spread over a wide area.
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Other aspects of the body of surviving manuscripts offer different kinds of information about early readers, although it is worth stressing 45 Julia Boffey and A. Edwards that such features do not often permit secure generalizations.