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Spurious Links: Introduction

A large number of manuscripts of the Tales contain what Manly (1928, 82-86) dubbed "spurious links," which are really non-authorial prologes - Chaucer's own preferred term (see CT III, 1708) - created to conceal gaps in the sequence by supplying obvious deficiencies, either where the poet never wrote prologues or where they were lost early in the transmission of the text, usually through rearrangement of the tales (Dempster 466-84). For example, whereas Chaucer provided no clear connection between the tales of the Nun's Priest and the Second Nun, the Cardigan MS (fol. 194a) smoothed over this break by rewriting the final line of Fragment VII - "Seide unto another, as ye shuln heere" becomes "Sayd unto the Nonne as y[e] shall here" - and prefacing Fragment VIII with a brief conversation initiated by the Host:
   "Madame, and Y durst, Y wold you pray,
To tell us a talle y[n] furtheryng of oure way.
Then myght ye do unto us gret ease."
   "Gladly," quod she, "so that Y myght you please,
You and this wurthy company!" -
And began here tale ryght thus full sobyrly.
There are twenty-two such passages that can be divided into three basic types: (1) altered authorial texts in which usually the pilgrim's name has been changed; (2) non-authorial lines added to authentic Chaucerian materials; (3) entirely new sections. I have selected two fairly complete series and printed them, in boldface type, within context of Chaucer's authentic lines.

The term link, while supported nowhere in the manuscripts, does justly describe the common narrative strategy throughout these later bridge-passages. Though some of Chaucer's own prologues, such as those for the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath, start abruptly without giving any indication of a previous pilgrim, the apocryphal prologues were more thoroughly influenced by those sections of the frame-narrative that served as transitions from one tale-teller to the next, as when the Host decides that the Prioress's sobering "miracle" of the murdered student ought to be followed with something jollier from Chaucer the pilgrim. Thus the fifteenth-century scribes seemed intent upon tying together and unifying, invariably through the strong guiding presence of the Host, fragments that had been left maddeningly disconnected by the poet himself for reasons that can only be guessed at: intention, disinterest, physical or mental disability, or sudden death.

The Text

Series 1. The earliest introduction of four links is found uniquely in BL Lansdowne 851 (c. 1410-20), a landmark manuscript roughly contemporary with Ellesmere. Because its text seems to have been subject to a minimum of scribal corruption, I have represented the substantives as well as the spellings as they appear in the manuscript.

Series 2. Four other non-authorial prologues are preserved in three closely related manuscripts: BL Royal 18.C.ii (c. 1425-1440), Bodleian Barlow 20 (c. 1450-80), and Bodleian Laud Misc. 739 (c. 1475). Petworth 7 (c. 1420-30) is also related, containing three of these prologues, but not in the same order. I have used the Royal manuscript as the copy-text, granting it "best text" status because it is early and generally agrees with Laud against Barlow in offering acceptable readings.

While the Merchant-Wife of Bath link survives only in these three manuscripts, other individual links appear in a large number of copies. For example, the spurious Shipman's prologue occurs in thirteen manuscripts as a link between the Pardoner and the Shipman; in four manuscripts it connects Gamelyn with The Shipman's Tale; and in Bodleian Hatton Donat. 1 it links the Clerk and the Shipman. The full collation of manuscript readings undertaken by Norem (123-49) indicates few significant variants, probably because the pedestrian quality of the language offered few challenges to the copyists.

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