Early Modern Manuscript Poetry: Recovering our Scribal Heritage

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sch of English Lit, Lang and Linguistics


Poetic miscellanies are central to the growing interest in early modern manuscript culture. Yet few of the primary documents are available for study in reliable editions, while a very small percentage of the thousands of poems extant only in manuscript texts have been analyzed and reliably edited. The project will bring manuscript culture to a wider audience - and extend the literary canon - by editing three important verse anthologies from the period and placing them in their full cultural context.

The three editions comprise two extensive collections containing works by some of our best-known Renaissance poets (Victoria and Albert Museum, Dyce MS. 44 and British Library, Harleian MS. 7392) and one hitherto unstudied and seemingly forgotten Elizabethan anthology of verse and prose (British Library Additional MS. 82370), previously in private ownership, which was acquired by the British Library in 2007. Compiled in South Yorkshire, this third collection in particular gives a rare and valuable insight into the types of verse available to provincial scribes. It also casts light on literary production and activity beyond London and the south east.

The three editions will add substantially to our knowledge of scribal practice and early modern literary activity by tracing when, where, by whom and for whom these texts were produced; how they circulated; and the political and religious, as well as literary concerns, of their compilers.

The project will also produce the first critical edition of forty-two Elizabethan verse libels in manuscript. Within the larger genre of early modern verse satire, verse libels are one significant type of poetry confined to manuscript circulation. These poems were far too slanderous to reach print. They are not available in critical texts and are almost wholly unknown to scholars. As a result, a large piece of our understanding about the dissemination and debate of political concerns in sixteenth-century England is currently missing. Many of these poems circulated for decades, appreciated for their literary quality long after the targets of their satire were distant memories. Recovering these poems will add therefore to our appreciation of Elizabethan poetry, as well as the political interests and moral sensitivities of the age.

The conference and resulting book of essays will disseminate best practice in archival studies and editing. It will place what we have learned about early modern manuscript culture during the project in the context of on-going research in this field.

The project will also train two students in the multiple skills required for manuscript studies, equipping them for scholarly careers in this area, and providing the field with much-needed expertise for further progress in the discipline by the next generation of scholars.
Description Overall, we have discovered a host of new facts about the nature of manuscript culture during the English Renaissance. This includes the heretofore unsuspected degree to which many poetic texts circulated in handwritten copies throughout England and Scotland, often for decades, and in numbers of copies that may well have exceeded the press runs of many printed books.
The editions of individual manuscript poetic anthologies completed during the project have shed new light on the quality of the texts they preserve, on their scribes, conditions of compilation, and where they obtained their copies.
Exploitation Route Scribal culture is a very popular sub-discipline for students of English literature. Our findings provide opportunities for further research in a number of areas. The documents we have edited, or discovered and cited, can now be drawn upon by others for evidence related to a host of related studies of individual authors, works, social conditions, and scribal practices. The potential uses for all this new evidence are simply too profuse and varied to predict, but there can be no doubt that our published works will be mined by scholars for many years to come.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description Please note that when we drew up the grant proposal in 2008 we were not asked to estimate its broader social or economic consequences (what I have been informed is termed its "pathway to impact"). But upon reflection, I believe that what we accomplished has a number of impacts in both areas. A principal outcome of the grant was the training of two British Ph.D. students who completed their degrees at the University of Sheffield. Both have now entered into successful academic careers in the U.K. where they not only share what they learned in the course of the grant, but through their on-going research, make further contributions to their disciplines. Our two doctoral students create significant economic impact on two levels. Academic employment is fiercely competitive on an international scale. On a personal level, our students' demonstrated excellence in their disciplines enabled them to find employment that might otherwise have gone to well-qualified foreign nationals. They are thus able to support themselves and contribute to the support of their families. On the macro level, their scholarship simultaneously celebrates and sheds new light on Britain's cultural heritage. This unique and world-renowned heritage is an incalculable national economic asset. As just one example, our students' research and writing enhances the prestige of their institutions, and this prestige is crucial to attracting international students, whose economic impact on U.K. higher education is considerable. The grant also produced two books and a number of articles that work in the same way to shed new light (often, quite exciting new light) on the British past. While these publications are intended for advanced students and specialists, our findings will filter down to secondary school and broader public audiences. Residents of the West Riding of Yorkshire, for example, will discover in the book written by May and Marotti that an Elizabethan manuscript recently purchased by the British Library was compiled by John Hanson, yeoman of Rastrick, Yorks. It includes a folk ballad that recounts in detail a medieval feud in the area around Huddersfield. This verse narrative deals with local topography and local families some of whose descendants still live in the area. Few members of this community could decipher this manuscript's handwriting today, but our book gives them full access to Hanson's anthology-the ballad text, poetry by Queen Elizabeth I and others, accounts of the public celebration of the Armada victory in 1588, recipes for fish bait, ink, and paint, and much more. Similar discoveries are embedded in the other publications produced by our grant. They constitute a lasting resource for further understanding and appreciation of Britain's cultural heritage.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic