The “Edition”

Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.
Electronic editions allow us to explore texts in new ways. The OSEO is only one example of how technology can re-animate scholarly work.

Kenneth Price, author of the article “Electronic Scholarly Editions”, states that with new developments in electronic editing we may have to ability to view all versions, or editions, of certain texts side by side (Price, 2012). This would allow scholars to compare and contrast the various editions of a particular text and essentially to engage closer with the text itself.

As a student studying Medieval to Renaissance literature the many editions available of Sir Gowther, a moderately short, anonymous Middle English romance, caught my attention. Often cited as an adaptation of the late twelfth century French poem Robert the Devil, Robert le Diable, it tells the story of the life of Sir Gowther from birth to death.

The tale of Sir Gowther can be found in two manuscripts dating from the late-fifteenth century; that of the British Library Royal MS 17.B.43 and also the National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.3.1. The romance in both manuscripts is composed of twelve-line, tale rhyme stanzas; however both versions of Sir Gowther differ from one another slightly (Laskaya and Salisbury, 1995).

The British Library Royal manuscript, which scholars highlight was perhaps intended for a more sophisticated and refined audience, excludes the passage where the hero Sir Gowther, prior to his conversion from a barbaric individual to a saint-like figure, commits a repugnant crime where he, along with his comrades, sexually assaults and loots a nun’s convent and subsequently burns the convent to the ground. Laskaya and Salisbury note that the manuscript found in the National Library of Scotland is told in “a more vigorous and decidedly more explicit manner” (Laskaya and Salisbury, 1995).

The two manuscripts of Sir Gowther are not the only editions available of the text however, but rather because it is a Middle English romance it has been subject to numerous translations and interpretations. One such translation to modern English by English Professor George W. Tuma from San Francisco State University and independent scholar Dinah Hazell is available to read online.

XML or extensible markup language, the acid-free paper of the digital age, allows editors to determine which part of the text is important or of major interest by tagging or labelling the specific area of interest of a text with something known as a markup. Not only can editors mark the structural features of the manuscript, for example where there are line breaks and stanzas, but they can include extra information about the society of the time and their culture and, if known, the author (Price, 2012).

By creating an electronic edition of each version of the tale of Sir Gowther scholars would be able to mark up where the differences in both manuscripts lie. They would have the ability to include information about the people and culture of the late-fifteenth century and perhaps suggest why the manuscripts differ slightly in their re-telling of the tale.

By creating an electronic edition of each version of the text hyperreadng, defined by James Sosnoski as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading”, can take place (Sosnoski,1999). While Sosnoski criticises hyperreading for distancing the reader from the text, I, like Katherine Hayles, believe that hyperreading allows us to understand a text more in-depth by giving us the ability to focus on specific terms, keywords and areas of the text that are of relevance to a specific individual’s research. This is particularly useful when various editions of a text are available. One has the ability to search for the key areas of the text that differ slightly without having to repeatedly re-read the text closely as a whole just by filtering a specific word or phrase.


Laskaya, A. Salisbury, E. The Middle English Breton Lays. University of Rochester Archive. Medieval Institute Publications. 1995. Web. 19 December 2012.

Price, K. “Electronic Scholarly Editions”. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Blackwell DTD, 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.

Sosnoski, J. J. “Hyperreaders and Their Reading Engines”, Passions, Politics and 21st Century Technologies. 1999: 161-177. Web. 24 January 2013.


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