Reading Across Languages in Medieval Britain presents historical, textual, and codicological evidence to situate thirteenth- and fourteenth-century vernacular-to-vernacular translations in a reading milieu characterized by code-switching and "reading across languages." This study presents the need for--and develops and uses--a new methodological approach that reconsiders the function of translation in this multilingual, multi-directional reading context.
A large corpus of late thirteenth- through early fourteenth-century vernacular literature in Britain, in both English and Welsh, was derived from French language originals from previous centuries. These texts include mainly romances and chansons de geste, and evidence suggests that they were produced at the same time, and for the same audience, as later redactions of the texts in the original language. This evidence gives rise to the main question that drives this dissertation: what was the function of translation in a reading milieu in which translations and originals shared the same audience? Because a large number of the earliest or sole surviving translations into English from French language originals appear in Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates' MS 19.2.1 (the Auchinleck Manuscript), my study focuses on the translations preserved in this manuscript. Although it is known for being the earliest virtually monolingual anthology of Middle English texts, I illuminate the multilingual milieu in which the Auchinleck Manuscript circulated and argue that an audience of multilingual readers who were familiar with the original French language sources of the texts enabled an extratextual discourse for reading in translation. The practice of reading across languages gave rise to a particular mode of discourse in which translative revisions could generate an intertextual dialogue with source texts. In many cases, this dialogue was both subversive and interrogative, in that it prompted an extratextual discussion that revised values expressed in the source texts and, in so doing, commented on ideological issues that were important to an early fourteenth-century audience. Moreover, the act of moving into the English language texts which had been read in French for approximately a hundred years mimetically effected a revision of another sort by urging the cultural reorientation of the Anglo-Norman reader and generating a significant dialogue about vernacular literary production in England. The Auchinleck translations represent a method of inscribing significance and receiving information that alters the way we think about the transmission of ideas and the use of the English language, which invites new questions regarding the role of English as its use increased and developed through the fourteenth century.
In chapter one I argue that Middle English translations were produced with the knowledge that readers would put them in dialogue with their French language source texts, and I contextualize the Auchinleck Manuscript in particular within this multilingual milieu. I further describe the historical and cultural context that made this manuscript a rich site for the subversive interrogation of traditional values, an important context for my discussion, in later chapters, of the translative revisions in the Auchinleck texts.
Chapter two considers the Auchinleck Guy of Warwick and Reinbroun, which, taken together, translate the Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic. I provide new evidence to argue that these were original translations composed in conjunction with the production of the Auchinleck Manuscript, a theory first proposed by Laura Hibbard Loomis, but which has been summarily dismissed in recent scholarship.
Chapter three reexamines the same texts in light of the arguments presented in chapters one and two. I consider how the multilingual cross-reader may have interpreted translative revisions as rhetorical gestures, and I identify what I call an interrogative translative pattern that questions some of the values depicted in the source text, thereby generating an extratextual dialogue about the fourteenth-century cultural and political issues I described in chapter one.
Chapter four steps back in time to consider the small handful of French-to-English translations that clearly pre-date those discussed in chapters two and three, including King Horn, Floris and Blauncheflour, and Havelok. Manuscript evidence shows that these texts also circulated in a multilingual reading milieu, but they did not operate in a discursive mode that generated an intertextual dialogue with their source texts. A description of the translative methodology exhibited in these texts helps us understand how later examples of French-to-English translation developed in interesting ways.
Chapter five considers four other translations that appear in the Auchinleck Manuscript, all of which preserve evidence to suggest that they, too, may have been translated in conjunction with the production of this manuscript. A study of Lay le Freine, Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild, Amis and Amiloun, and Beves of Hampton gives rise to the main argument of this dissertation, discussed above, and shows that the Auchinleck translations represent an important development in the function of translation and the use of the English language in medieval England.
Chapter six considers Welsh translations of several of the same texts that appear in translation in the Auchinleck Manuscript and contextualizes them within a discussion of English-Welsh political and cultural relations. The Welsh texts that tell the stories of Beves of Hampton (Bown o Hamtoun), Otinel (Rhamant Otuel), and Amis and Amiloun (Kymdeithas Amlyn ac Amic) were probably translated from French and Latin at the same time that they were translated into Middle English, and cultural and historical evidence suggests that the producers of the English and Welsh translations should have been aware of one another's work. A study of these parallel translation projects reveals interesting differences in the methods of translation that reflect the cultural concerns of the Welsh after Edward I's conquest and that also point to the genuinely innovative rhetorical function of translation in the Auchinleck Manuscript.