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date: 07 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that medieval processes of textual transmission have had less effect on the reception and interpretation of medieval “literature” than modern trends in preservation, proscription, and “recognition.” Due to post-medieval upheavals -- the dispersal of manuscripts due to religious reform and warfare, the advent of belligerent nationalism and the “Enlightenment,” the valorization of the author, the influence of evolutionary theory, and a host of other forces -- the components of medieval manuscripts have been further and further alienated from the original contexts of their composition, inscription, and reception. The chapter accordingly examines the relationship, both symbiotic and dysfunctional, between the medieval manuscript matrix and the modern canon by citing the case of Beowulf and juxtaposing the sole text of this poem with the Anglo-Saxon version of Judith preserved in the same manuscript, in order to highlight the unequal treatment accorded to these two poems and the degree to which iconic medieval texts like Beowulf were framed as such in a climate of intense competition over cultural patrimony in nineteenth-century Europe. It also discusses the chancy processes that dictated the survival, retrieval, and canonization of certain at the expense of others: including The Book of Margery Kempe, Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romances, and the plays of Shakespeare.

Keywords: Beowulf, medieval manuscripts, modern canon, Judith, authorial control, Chrétien de Troyes, The Book of Margery Kempe, Song of Roland, Charles Darwin, Cotton Library, William Shakespeare, nationalism, manuscript matrix, textual transm

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