You’re writing an edition of a poem from the late 1170s. There are a number of partial and complete manuscripts out there. Some of these include:
A. An early-to-mid 13th century MS in a nice Ile de Paris dialect, vr. famous, containing all the poems by this author plus some others. Provenance: from the same region as the poet.
B. a couple of other early-to mid 13th c. MSS in regional dialects
C. an early 13th c. MS, quite damaged in places
D. some mid-to-late 13th c. MSS
E. a mid-to-late 13th c. MS put together by two alternating scribes; neither scribes nor MS come from the same region as the poet.
Which of these would you want to base your edition on? If you picked E, you are well on your way to becoming a well-known French manuscript scholar! Bonus points if you give no real explanation for your choice, and omit certain lines found in *all* the early-to-mid 13th c. MSS.
My intention is to go bouncing about France (well, ok, Paris and Tours) to look at a handful of these MSS. I expect my conclusion will be “yup, the lines are there in the early ones!” Cutting-edge research, folks.
Also, I take it as a personal affront that the Bodleian MS is missing the entire section. Not because it’s a particularly useful MS (it’s not), but because I wish to chase down a friend who’s being frighteningly clever at something scientific in Oxford, and would’ve liked a good academic excuse to go there.
D’you reckon the BL would let me see a Middle English MS that’s not particularly related to my thesis but is related to my Leeds paper (I think I won’t get to see it until AFTER Leeds, but let’s not mind that)? I reckon I can get a letter from my director saying I’m very clever and have valid research interests.
ED: If you were editing the sole MS of Ywain and Gawain would you
A: Try to find out if it’s possible to pin down the French MS used by the redactor, and comment on whether or not you had succeeded in finding anything useful?
B: Not say anything about how a northern English poet in the 14th century got hold of a 12thc. French poem.
If B, congratulations, you’re Maldwin Mills! Maybe someone else has done the legwork on this. I should find out. Maybe we just don’t have any Chretien MSS known have been in England at the right time?