Reading Medieval Literature

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Reading medieval English literature, a staple of courses in college or senior high school, is made unnecessarily difficult by the unfamiliar spelling of the period.

This adds nothing of value to the literature, only difficulty: saw turns up as saugh, say, saigh; father’s as fadres; grete is great but also greet, and hundreds of others. Very misleading.

Shakespeare’s text is not presented as it was printed in his day. The spelling and punctuation there are modernized. Here we do the same for Chaucer and others. Understanding their work still requires effort because we have not changed their words, only their spellings and punctuation. Those words are 600 years old, and some are obsolete and some have changed their meaning. Explanatory glosses in the margin of our written version explain the difficult words. In the Audiogloss version a spoken gloss replaces the written one.

It is important to recognize that these editions of medieval English poems are NOT translations. All the words are those of the original authors.