Erik B. Vorhes

Dr. Gossett

English 420

15 April 2004

An Explanation

This is an evolving electronic project. It is not where I want it to be, but it is nearing a good starting point. In the next few sections I will discuss the Towneley manuscript, the significance of the Lazarus play with in it, and my theoretical justification for this edition. After these sections I will discuss a few of my editorial quirks and some short- and long-term goals that I would like to happen. I would appreciate your feedback; I expect to have the “Comments” section available by the end of April, but until then, please send e-mail to me. Most of the texts I reference are listed in the bibliography; please notify me if something appears to be absent!

Thank you for your time, and for your interest!

The Manuscript

The Towneley manuscript (Huntington MS HM 1) is unique and contains one of the four extant biblical “cycle dramas” in medieval English literature. Cawley and Stevens believe the manuscript to be dated between 1475 and 1500 (CS xv), although the plays themselves could be (and probably are) older than the manuscript. The Townely cycle contains thirty-one plays in one scribe’s hand; these are followed by a fragmentary “Hanging of Judas,” which is believed to be in a later “sixteenth-century hand” (CS 651).

Each play begins with a highly stylized intial capital, and the manuscript employs black and red ink. Red ink is usally used to mark a line between speaking parts; speech designations are almost flush right on each page. The few stage directions in the manuscript are usually in Latin and also marked in the right margin. An additional peculiarity to the manuscript are markings between rhyming couplets and triplets. (I hope to demonstrate this when the digitized manuscript is on-line.) For further analysis of the manuscript, please see the introductions to AC and Fax.


While an editorial project dealing with one play from a “cycle” can be a useful academic exercise in itself—by learning to read manuscript hands and by making basic editorial decisions—the Towneley “Lazarus” offers a unique opportunity. For it does not appear in the manuscript according to biblical narrative. That is, the raising of Lazarus occurs in John’s gospel immediately before the passion sequence. In the Towneley manuscript, however, Lazarus appeares after the last judgment, certainly a peculiar (and troubling) position for this event. This placement does not appear to be an accident: the text is bound with the judgment play (not a later paste-in, e.g.), and the usually careful scribe does not account for this error. (CS provide a balanced analysis of the textual and critical trouble that this placement has caused, in their notes, 646-50.)

Textuality, Theory, Theology?

What got me interested in doing an electronic edition of the play was this textual problem. One experiences a hermeneutic dilemma when enountering the play: how is one to read something so displaced from its traditionally established reality? One of the things that one cannot do with a traditional, bound edition of the manuscript, is to rearrange the book’s contents (without, that is, a destructive nature and a razor blade or wet piece of string). Rearranging plays in hypertext is less of a challenge, and you can view my rough starts in the “chronos text” and “kairos text” version that I have compiled, which (when you’re online) do the rearranging for you. I believe that this “deformance” (to ape Jerome McGann) exposes the trouble the play has in navigating time in general. This is far from the only interpretive start, however, and I merely wish at this point to open the door.

Hypertext provides other opportunities as well. It pushes texts into a social space far more open than traditional printed matter. With the right technology, one can alter editorial practice so that it no longer is the task of the few, but instead the task of the many. What was a private text becomes a social text. The comments pages, when they are online, should help move this edition in that more social direction.

Navigating the Lazarus Text

My edition of the Lazarus play attempts to begin to take account of inherent textual sociality. All texts are saturated with prior interpretations, prior understandings; I hope to make my edition a transparent acknowledgement of that reality. I began by transcribing from the facsimile edition that Cawley and Stevens published in 1976; at some point I hope to visit the Huntington library in order to verify my transcription against the manuscript itself. In the meantime, I have attempted to incorporate and acknowledge some of the decisions made by my editorial predecessors (Sur., EP, and CS), but this is an ongoing task. Their contributions can most frequently be found in the “notes” attached directly to the edition, and their contributions will continue to expand within those notes.

Aside from punctuation (the MS lacks punctuation), I have attempted to remain faithful to the MS. I incorporate line breaks as indicated by the MS and only add breaks between speaking parts. There are a few peculiarities to my edition of which you should be aware:

  1. Notes appear in the right margin, in red; when the mouse pointer hovers over the word “note,” all appropriate notations appear.
  2. Glosses of difficult or ambiguous words appear in-text, underlined in blue; the same procedure as with the notes reveals the glosses. (I take my glosses primarily from the Middle English Compendium and CS.)
  3. Abbreviations are expanded, with a gray background to identify them.
  4. It is possible to print the text (I recommend the “mastertext.html” file), but none of these apparatuses will appear on the printed page. This is partly to conserve paper, but also to provide a “clean” copy for performance.

Any difficulty navigating the site should of course be directed to me. I will try to make everything as hassle-free as possible.

Future Goals

I have several short-term goals for this project:

  1. to enable participation in the editorial process though a comment system;
  2. to incorporate as much previous editorial and interpretive work on the play into the edition as possible (including more from my first three sources); and
  3. to expand the list of analogues and sources relevant to medieval presentations of Lazarus.

I also have some long-term goals, primarily to digitize the manuscript in a searchable form and to expand the editorial scope to the entire Towneley manuscript.

Currently most online editions of the Towneley plays are basic transcriptions of the EP text, which is now over a century old. I hope that this fledgling project will push the MS into a higher level of accessibility and (I hope) scholarship.