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5 - Scribe 3’s Literary Project: Pedagogies of Reading in Auchinleck’s Booklet 3

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2021

Susanna Fein
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Kent State University.
A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English, University of Kent
Helen Phillips
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Cardiff University
Derek Pearsall
Affiliation:
Professor Emeritus of English, Harvard University, Honorary Member, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Cathy Hume
Affiliation:
Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University, Illinois.
Ralph Hanna
Affiliation:
Emeritus Professor of Palaeography, University of Oxford
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Summary

IN the Prologue to the Auchinleck Of Arthour and of Merlin, English is emphatically not the language of privilege. Addressing the poem's Englishness in the context of a valorization of education, the writer asserts, ‘Auauntages tai hauen tare / Freynsch & Latin eueraywhare’ (lines 17–18). This preface frames the choice of English as a potentially inclusive move, one that might render ‘auauntages’ accessible to every English person and not just to those with training in Latin or French – it claims, after all, that ‘euerich Jnglische Jnglische can’ (line 24). Although its contents occasionally incorporate some French and Latin themselves, it is tempting to view Auchinleck's own Englishness in light of this accessibility; indeed, this passage has been taken as an addition specific to the manuscript.

More than an endorsement of Auchinleck's most prevalent vernacular, however, this passage articulates a valuation of reading that transcends the particularities of language. The preceding lines identify ‘auauntages’ with textual access:

Childer tat ben to boke ysett

In age hem is miche te bett

For tai mo witen & se

Miche of Godes priuete

Hem to kepe & to ware

Fram sinne & fram warldes care,

& wele ysen ȝif tai willen

Tat hem no tarf neuer spillen. (lines 9–16)

This passage makes book-based learning central to the ‘auauntages’ so often restricted to readers of French and Latin. Education that entails being ‘to boke ysett’ – that involves pursuing, in other words, a systematic programme of reading – is an ethical shield, warding off the spiritual ills of sin and the material ills of need and suffering. Knowledge of ‘Godes priuete’ furnishes guidance, a means of steering a wise and ethical course through life. This preface builds its Englishness upon a teleology of reading intrinsic not to the language of education but to education itself. It implies that access matters, that the Englishness of its accompanying text – and, by extension, other texts – answers a perceived moral need.

We might struggle to understand why a popular account of the origins and exploits of Merlin and Arthur occasions such an ambitious and ethically freighted claim, but the impenetrability of this juxtaposition is revealing in and of itself.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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