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    From translator to Laureate: imagining the medieval author

    Bale, Anthony (2008) From translator to Laureate: imagining the medieval author. Literature Compass 5 (5), pp. 918-934. ISSN 1741-4113.

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    Today we largely take it for granted that every text has an author, but what is understood by the term ‘author’ was very different in the Middle Ages. Medieval English ideas of authorship were many and varied, and show some key changes from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. In manuscript cultures, like England before the late fifteenth century, the author has little control over the repetition of his text; in many medieval vernacular texts the author is represented as a craftsman and translator rather than a visionary or virtuoso. Texts in manuscript were inherently open to rewriting and were often anonymous. The role and status of the author was interrogated by poets and scholars, often revealing a remarkably open sense of who, or what, an author could be. In the later medieval period, traditions of depicting real (Geoffrey Chaucer) and imagined (Sir John Mandeville) authors developed, signalling a growing trend of attaching an authorial identity to a text worth reading. The development of mysticism and affective religion brought further transformations in the role of the author, given the anxiety over who has the right and access to represent divine communication; this issue is raised in The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Margery Kempe, both of which play with conceits of anonymity. After Chaucer, in particular in the poetry of John Lydgate, we can identify the development of the English ‘laureate’ poet. In the early era of print, especially in the prologues of William Caxton, one discerns the emergence of an author, through the posthumous image of Chaucer, similar to that known today: not only a writer but also a creator, a celebrity and an authority.


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