Hengwrt manuscript


Hengwrt manuscript
   The Hengwrt manuscript (National Library of Wales Ms. Peniarth 392 D) is the earliest surviving manuscript of Geoffrey CHAUCER’s CANTERBURY TALES, and is therefore of prime significance in helping scholars establish Chaucer’s intent for his text. The scribe responsible for the manuscript appears to be the same one that produced the more famous ELLESMERE MANUSCRIPT of the Tales, though the less finished nature of Hengwrt suggests that it is almost certainly an earlier production. The manuscript is usually dated to the first decade after Chaucer’s death in 1400, though recent studies of the manuscript by modern editors have revealed the presence of a second hand in the composition, which some have suggested is the hand of a supervisor for the project. It has been suggested that Chaucer himself may have supervised part of the manuscript’s production. If that were true, then the traditionally accepted date of the manuscript would be pushed back to the last decade of the 14th century.
   However, the Hengwrt manuscript has certain defects. It would seem that the scribe received the text in small pieces rather than all at once (and some parts of the text seem never to have reached him at all). As a result the sequence of the tales is not logical. In addition, when the manuscript was bound, some fragments were put out of order. The Hengwrt manuscript is missing The CANON’S YEOMAN’S TALE completely, as well as the prologue to The MERCHANT’S TALE, and the end of The PARSON’S TALE. These problems would suggest that Chaucer was not alive, or was incapacitated, when the final manuscript was put together. Thus it makes sense to date the Hengwrt manuscript to about the time of Chaucer’s death.
   There are additions to the manuscript that were made in the 16th and 17th centuries. It seems to have belonged to one Fouke Dutton, a draper of Chester, by the mid-16th century, and by the 1570s was associated with a family called Banestar, who brought it to Wales. It was acquired by the collector Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt, Meirionnydd, who died in 1667. Vaughan’s library was bequeathed to W.W. E.Wynne of Peniarth in 1859, in whose possession it began to be studied by Chaucer scholars. Wynne sold the Vaughan manuscripts to Sir John Williams in 1904, who, in turn, donated them to the newly founded National Library of Wales in 1909, where it has resided ever since.
   Bibliography
   ■ Ruggiers, Paul G., ed. The Canterbury Tales: A Facsimile and Transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript, with Variants from the Ellesmere Manuscript. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.
   ■ Stubbs, Estelle, ed. The Hengwrt Chaucer Digital Facsimile. Leicester, U.K.: Scholarly Digital Editions, 2000. CD-ROM.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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