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An edition of the Conduct of Life based on the six extant manuscripts with full commentary, complementary critical and codicological analysis, notes and introduction

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Payne, Robin John 


An edition of the Conduct of Life based on the six extant manuscripts with full commentary, complementary critical and codicological analysis, notes and introduction.

The Conduct of Life, also known as the Poema Morale, is a verse-sermon that has been largely ignored by literary histories, and despite the longevity of its textual tradition its various texts have never been the subject of extended study. This dissertation brings together the seven manuscript versions of the text, which date from the end of the twelfth to the end of the thirteenth centuries, and re-examines them individually and as a cohort exhibiting variance. It therefore offers a revealing indicator of how continuity and change actually operated through the interaction between preceding tradition and scribes and audiences.

This is achieved through a three-fold analysis of the verse sermon which highlights the fluidity of the manuscript culture during this period and the willingness of scribes to adapt texts to suit new purposes, to create differences due to dialect and comprehension, or copy variants from a now lost exemplar. First, an edition of the text, based on the version found in Cambridge, Trinity College MS B. 14. 52, folios 2r-9v , explores, through the accompanying notes, the themes, style and phraseology which not only reflect the influence of earlier English literary and hortatory texts but also represent a living tradition which found popularity within diverse writing and social environments. Secondly, a diplomatic edition of each text is presented, preceded by an introduction to the text, grammar and dialect, with full codicological and palaeographic notes. Finally, a parallel text edition bears witness to the copying and reshaping of the text throughout its history. It is accompanied by extensive linguistic notes which highlight the adaptation and textual variance between each version of the Conduct of Life.

Each new variant has not only been read in relation to the other versions of the same work but also in relation to the manuscript context it newly occupies as a result of its transmission. Each copy reshapes the material within an established structure of rhythm and metre and, therefore, the dissertation concludes that the sermon is recreated as a series of individual texts, which might be individually analysed, because each is different, particularly within their specific physical and historical moments. This fluidity or mouvance suggests for the Conduct of Life and, for that matter, the texts that preceded it in the historical narrative of the twelfth century that there is no authentic text; that the instability of the manuscript ‘tradition’ moves from manuscript to manuscript.





Windeatt, Barry


Verse-sermon, Medieval, Hell, Heaven, codicology, edition, Parallel-texts, diplomatic edition, palaeography, transmission, mouvance, twelfth century, manuscript, dialect, post conquest, Anglo Saxon, Anglo Norman, variance, scribes, Poema Morale, Middle English, literary history


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Board of Graduate Studies and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge - Domestic Research Studentship Scholar.