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4437Re: tc-list Article in Nature

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  • James R. Covey
    Sep 1, 1998
      re missive of 31/08/98 09:26 PM signed -Steven Carr- :

      >Apparently there is an article in Nature (vol 394, p 839) giving details
      >of a new text critical program which was applied to Canterbury Tales.
      >It seems this new program is based on methods used to find common
      >ancestors of DNA strings.

      from the BBC:


      >Thursday, August 27, 1998 Published at 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
      >Computer judges Wife of Bath to be chaste
      >Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may not be as racy as scholars
      >Students of Chaucer may have to rethink their theories about
      >one of the most notorious woman in early English literature,
      >the Wife of Bath.
      >Using evolutionary biology, scientists have been able to
      >debunk the long-held theory that the sexually voracious Wife
      >of Bath was actually so outrageous.
      >Biologists at Cambridge University have used a system
      >developed for tracing the origin of the species through
      >their DNA to work out which of the 58 surviving versions of
      >The Canterbury Tales are closest to the original, which no
      >longer exists.
      >DNA tests show the Wife of Bath to be more demureSome depict
      >the wife as coarse and with an indiscriminate sexual
      >appetite, but researchers say they can now restore her to
      >the personality they believe Chaucer intended.
      >The most authentic manuscripts still paint her as
      >outrageous, but with hankerings after respectability.
      >The infamous passage about her appetite for all men "were he
      >short or long or black or white", no matter "how poore" or
      >of "what degree", was probably excised by Chaucer and
      >replaced by scholars later, the scientists have discovered.
      >The results of the research - published in the scientific
      >journal Nature - found evidence for believing that Chaucer's
      >own copy was not a completed single text but a working
      >The researchers, led by Dr Christopher Howe, wrote: "In
      >time, this may lead editors to produce a radically different
      >text of The Canterbury Tales."
      >Dr Christopher Howe and DR Peter Robinson explain how they
      >made the breakthroughSpeaking on Radio 4's Today programme,
      >one of the literary experts who worked on the project, Dr
      >Peter Robinson, said the research made the Wife of Bath a
      >different person.
      >"It stresses her desire for social and economic dominance
      >rather than her sexual aggression," he said.
      >Dr Howe's team worked with manuscript experts from De
      >Montfort University in Leicester who are investigating the
      >origins of Chaucer's works.
      >They used the latest computerised techniques normally used
      >by biologists to reconstruct the evolutionary trees of
      >different species from their DNA.
      >Early hand-copied manuscripts often contain duplicated
      >mistakes and variations.
      >By comparing the similarities and differences of a number of
      >texts, scientists are able to reach conclusions about what
      >an original copy was like, even if it has been lost.
      >Family trees
      >Until now, the technique, known as 'stemmatics', has been a
      >laborious manual process only feasible for a few short
      >But Dr Howe realised it had much in common with the
      >techniques used by evolutionary biologists to track
      >different species' family trees.
      >He and his team concentrated on The Wife of Bath's Prologue
      >to produce a computer-generated family tree showing the
      >relationships between the 58 different 15th century versions
      >of the story.
      >A number of manuscripts formed groups which could be traced
      >back to distinct common ancestors.
      >One particular group appeared to go back further than the
      >others to a point probably close to the missing original.
      >Yet these manuscripts had mostly been ignored by scholars.
      >Dr Robinson added that the work had given the team a
      >"radically more efficient" way of discovering the early
      >history of the Tales.
      >"It has already suggested vital new approaches to
      >long-unsolved problems, which will bring us much closer to
      >understanding what Chaucer left behind him at his death."

      James R. Covey
      WWW Systems Developer
      Cochran Interactive Inc.
      direct ph. # 902.422.8915
      office fax # 902.425.8659
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