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Chaucer Manuscripts

Online Exhibitions

Working with Chaucer Manuscripts

  • At Harvard's Chaucer website has a series of subpages dedicated to textual editing as well as codicology and paleography.

Manuscript Finding Aids

  • Si├ón Echard at the University of British Columbia has, on her webpage, a collection of links to different full and partial digital facsimiles of Chaucer's manuscripts and printed books.

Individual Manuscripts

  • The most famous -- some would say the most authoritative -- manuscript of the Canterbury Tales is the Ellesmere Manuscript, held by the Huntington Library in California. It was probably written between 1400 and 1405, making it one of the two earliest manuscripts of the CT. This is the version with the famous portraits of the pilgrims, as well as the foundation for the Broadview edition that I often use in class (and which should be your first stop for further information on this manuscript).
  • The other candidate for authoritativeness is the Hengwrt Manuscript (National Library of Wales Peniarth MS 392D), produced about the same time as the Ellesmere but demonstrating some substantial textual differences.
  • A manuscript as early as Ellesmere and Hengwrt, but containing the apocryphal "Tale of Gamelyn," is British Library, Harley MS 7334.
  • Oxford, Corpus Christi College MS 198, another early fifteenth-century Chaucer manuscript, is available as a digital facsimile from the University of Oxford's digital manuscript site. It's not as pretty as the Ellesmere, and it's missing its first leaf, but it gives a good sense of a more "everyday" manuscript than the glories of the Ellesmere can.
  • You can see what late-fifteenth-century Canterbury Tales looks like in British Library, Add. MS 1540 -- produced after Caxton had printed The Canterbury Tales for the first time. It's also one of many copies to include John Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, his own piece of CT fan-fic.
  • Another curious witness to the Canterbury Tales is Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.3.15, a late fifteenth-century copy that's had missing text supplied by a sixteenth-century hand. And that same sixteenth-century hand has added a copy of the Middle English Piers the Plowman's Crede. Curiouser and curiouser.
  • The University of Glasgow has also fully digitized Chaucer's translation of the Romance of the Rose, The Romaunt of the Rose.
  • The Parker Library on the Web has what was intended to be a beautifully illuminated Troilus and Criseyde, but the illuminations were never completed (thumb through and see where the scribe left space for the illuminator's work.)
  • University of Pennsylvania Library, MS Codex 902 is a collection of Old French poetry from c. 1400 that contains not only verse by Chaucer's French contemporaries (like Guillaume de Machaut and Oton de Grandson) but also, tantalizingly, some poems only signed "Ch." Could these be French poems by Chaucer? It's an unprovable question, but certainly this manuscript contains the kind of French verse that influenced Chaucer's own lyrics.
  • However colorful and interactive the digital facsimiles might be, the print ones are still invaluable resources. UGA Main Library holds many of these; to find them, go to the catalog and do a Subject Heading search on "Chaucer, Geoffrey, d. 1400 - Manuscripts - Facsimiles."

Chaucer in Print

  • The British Library has a website for both of Caxton's Chaucer editions, along with much background information on early printing.
  • Both of Richard Pynson's editions of The Canterbury Tales are available online: the first (1492) from the Bodleian (where it's housed as MS Douce 218), and the second (1526) from the Houghton Library at Harvard. As a bonus, the Houghton copy is bound with two others of Pynson's printed Chaucers of that same year, Troilus and Criseyde and a collection of short poems.
  • The University of Glasgow "World of Chaucer" online exhibition also includes several important early printed Chaucers.
  • Early English Books Online (behind the UGA paywall; link will hopefully take you to a SSO login) also provides access to these and other early modern editions of Chaucer.
  • Thomas Speght's 1598 edition of the complete works of Chaucer is a whole lot different from the versions printed by Caxton and Pynson -- it includes prolific interpretive material, and it contains nearly all the poetry that Chaucer wrote (as well as some he didn't). You can access it from the Houghton Library at Harvard.
  • One of the most famous modern editions of Chaucer is the Kelmscott Chaucer, produced by William Morris' Kelmscott Press. The Kelmscott Chaucer is an important witness to pre-Raphaelite art, Arts and Crafts aesthetic, and the Victorian reconception of Chaucer and the Middle Ages. It's also a beautiful, beautiful book.