University of Virginia Library

The Problem of the Fists

The editions under discussion here have a long-noted oddity that bears on the tradition of printer's copy for these editions. The earlier folios contain some typographically peculiar marginalia in the House of Fame; in the 1561 edition, these typographical marks seem to be replaced for the most part with marginal fists, and they are again confined to the House of Fame.[19] The 1598 edition has no marginalia of any kind, but the 1602 edition marks proverbs and sententiae with marginal fists throughout (the two texts printed from the 1598 edition, texts not found in the 1561 edition, are unmarked). Hetherington is one of few bibliographers to address these marginalia:

The earlier Chaucer folios themselves contain some markings which could be regarded as anticipating the formal and practical use of the fist. Curiously, in each edition these only appear with The House of Fame. In 1542 and 1561 they only occur in the 'middle' margin. In 1550 they seem to be 'end of line' rather than marginal. I have not found any single line to be marked in more than one edition. (8-9)[20]
No explanation of these marginal marks has been offered beyond this. And the only sixteenth-century books where I am aware of having encountered


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similar marks in any significant numbers are the Great Bibles from the early 1540s printed by Grafton and Whitchurch (Grafton is the printer responsible for the 1542 Chaucer, although not named in the colophon). Here, they appear sporadically in the Kalendar, varying in location from edition to edition, and disappearing from later editions.[21]

In the first Thynne edition of 1532, three marks occur, all easily reproducible on a keyboard: on fol. 316, House of Fame, lines 837, 848 and 858:

(:):) (:):) (:(:):)

In 1542, this same section is marked at lines 848 and 853:

(:)(:) (:)(:)

In 1550, the most heavily marked version, no marks appear in this section.[22]

In the 1542 edition, in the middle sections of House of Fame, there are two more marks of this kind--a punctus elevatus (I represent this mark below with a modern question mark) within parentheses at lines 1108 and 1127. Toward the beginning and end of the work, several other differently-constructed marks occur: three small joined o's, a leaf, and a fist in lines 77, 83, 98 respectively. In the final section, the mark consisting of three o's recurs at line 1947, and right-pointing fists appear in the interior margin, set with the left column of type, at lines 1923, 1955, 2130, and 2140.

I will state now that I am not about to offer an explication of the specific function of these marks. I am certain that if some dozen or so lines in any text were marked entirely at random, most bibliographers, textual critics, or literary critics worthy of their profession could come up with reasons why those particular lines (and only those lines) were of significance. My argument here is rather that the very tradition of these marks was in itself stronger than their perceived function and that only in 1602 were they finally rationalized. In short: sixteenth-century printers had no clearer idea of the original function of these marks than we do.

With that caveat, several aspects of these marks should be noted. I begin with the 1542 edition. Here the right-pointing fists appear in the interior margin, but they are set within the borders of the left column of type. They thus point to lines in the right column, not to the left-column lines in which they are clearly set. Are they pointing the wrong way? The last two marginal


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fists seem to point to line 2154 in the right column--a line about stamping for eels (!, see note in Riverside 990)--and a line in the spurious continuation reading "Of that god of Thondre." Eel-stamping may be noteworthy, but these fists almost certainly originate as responses to the lines in the left margin: "With boxes crommed ful of lyes / As euer vessel was with lyes" (lines 2129-30) and "For al mote out late or rathe / Al the sheues in the rathe" (lines 2139-40). Each involves an apparent example of rime riche, and such a rime type may well have attracted editorial concern. In the second couplet, the rime is clearly an error (for rathe read lathe). In the first, the rime depends in part on the meaning of boxes--if, that is, boxes belongs here. MS. F reads boystes, MS. B bowgys. I haven't a clue what lines 2129-30 mean or what Thynne in 1532 thought his variant meant: the Riverside gloss at p. 373 suggests a rime on lies and lees: "With containers full of lies as ever vessel was with dregs."

The other odd mark, the joined o's at line 1947, is also not a mark for a reader; the reading "In sommer whan they ben grene" reads in other copies "In sommer whan they grene bene." This mark is quite possibly a compositor's rendition of what was intended as a mark of transposition.[23] Like the fists at the end of the text, this is something produced during the printing process, and represents (or originates in) notes to a printer or editor. Taken together, these marks are not in any way coherent guides for a reader; for any reader taking them seriously would be alternately baffled by the text in the vicinity or left wondering what the fuss was all about.

The 1550 edition contains many complex and bizarre-looking marginal marks and ornaments. Again, they are confined to the House of Fame. In some cases, they appear like those in the 1542 edition (there are numerous instances where they are constructed with type sorts, rather than ornamental sorts). For the first two books, these consist almost exclusively of marks formed from parentheses, the punctus elevatus, and colons: many are as easily constructed on a keyboard as from a typecase and include the following, at lines 171, 520, 704 and 930:

):( (?) )?( (?)?(?)

At the end of the second book, with the beginning of a new quire (3G), these become much more elaborate, formed by multiple commas, inverted commas, colons, etc. Among these are the marks at lines 1185 and 1128 and 1467:

(,:,:,:,:,) (:()?) (:)(:)(:

These are consistently well formed and quite carefully done; they are not a haphazard collection of sorts, but formed, for example, with alternating commas and right-facing or left-facing inverted commas, all within parentheses. The following occurs at line 1429 (the third inverted comma should face right here):



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I have conjectured a number of functions for these: annotations for inexistent notes, illegible corrections for text, casting-off marks for an projected edition. Most of my conjectures, however, contain the word inexistent or a near variant: there are no annotations; the lines marked are in no obvious need of correction; the intervals would not be appropriate for casting off copy. The precise function of the (lost) original marks that inspired the compositor for the 1550 edition to create these variant marks is quite simply lost.

The distribution of these marks does, however, reflect the physical structure of the book, and thus not what must have been the distribution of whatever marks were in the printer's copy (an annotated copy of the 1532 edition). The pattern of their distribution is a product of the creation of this edition. The more elaborate marks appear only in a single quire, 3G, and the independence of that quire is shown by the initial line, which erroneously repeats the last line of quire 3F and thus makes the catchword inaccurate; some sort of interruption occurs here. Another indication that these are products of processes at the printing house is the presence of marks in quire 3F. They occur only in particular formes: 3F2r/3F5v and 3F3r/3F4v. They do not occur in the reverse formes: 3F2v/3F5r and 3F3r/3F4r. All this indicates that whatever these marks may have represented or have been thought to represent, their presence in the 1550 edition is a function of something in the printer's copy that one compositor could have interpreted as "something to be printed" and another could have interpreted as "something to be ignored" (the hypothetical compositors could of course be one compositor working under a different directive).

When we look at the edition of 1561, we can see another step in the apparent rationalization of an oddity in a printer's copy. For this edition, the printer's copy was a copy of the 1550 edition, containing the bizarre printed marginalia in the House of Fame. The 1561 edition puts fists in its text of House of Fame (and in no other text). Pace Hetherington, there appears to be some relation of these fists to the marks in 1550, and it might be argued that in some cases, they represent an interpretation of the marginalia of 1550.[24]

In the first two books of House of Fame, there is no apparent correspondence. There are a number of fists at lines 250ff., but no mark corresponds to them in the 1550 or 1542 editions (at the end of the first book). There are none in the 1561 edition on sig. 3e2r-3e3v (an entire inner and outer forme), whereas numerous marks appear in this section in the 1550 edition. From the beginning of book 3, there are numerous fists in the 1561 edition, and many marks in the edition of 1550. There is some correspondence here: a mark oc-


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curs at line 1169 in the 1550 edition and an upward-pointing fist in the 1561 edition; another mark at line 1206 might correspond to an upward-pointing fist in the same line in 1561, and another mark at line 1217 might correspond to an upward-pointing fist at line 1219 in 1561. So also at line 1465, an upward-pointing fist in the 1561 edition is at least in the vicinity of a strange mark in the 1550 edition at line 1467; a downward-pointing fist at line 1479 might correspond to another mark in the 1550 edition. But of the eleven fists that follow, there is only a rough correspondence in one or two cases.

A few additional peculiarities about the fists in the 1561 edition are noteworthy. To begin with, there is only one such fist in the typefont, a right-pointing fist. This is set to point right on only one occasion. In all other uses, the fist appears between the two columns, set with the left column of print, and points either up or down. There may be a correspondence with the text, but trying to find one appears to have the intellectual validity of the Sortes Virgilianae. What can be said is the same that can be said of the 1550 marginalia: they respond to something noticeable in the printer's copy, but not something the compositor fully understood or interpreted in any intelligible way.

What happens in the two Speght editions is a response: in the 1598 edition, no marginal fists appear, although Speght claims in his introductory note "To the Readers" that he has marked all sentences and proverbs. In 1602, marginal fists appear throughout the book (with the exception of the two texts that the 1598 edition added to the contents of earlier editions: "Chaucer's Dream" and "Flower and the Leaf"). And they are perfectly rationalized--marking sentences and proverbs, precisely what Speght claims on his title page and in the preliminaries.[25] Because they are rational, they have no relation to any of the marginalia in earlier editions.

The history of these marks confirms other evidence for printer's copy, supporting the hypothesis of the retention of particular books or manuscripts as printer's copy, first for the editions of 1542 and 1550, and second for the edition of 1602. There is no doubt concerning the general relations of the 1542 and 1550 editions: the collations show that both were set from the first Thynne edition (1532). How, then, does the 1550 edition happen to have so many marks, some of which correspond exactly to the 1542 edition? And why do both editions have marks that are formed typographically like the three in the 1532 edition?

The only explanation for this is that the 1550 and 1542 editions were set not simply from what a textual critic might call TH (the text of the 1532 edition) but rather from a specific copy of that edition, a marked-up copy.[26]


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Such a specifically marked copy would explain all apparent correspondence with these two editions as far as particular extraneous marginalia are concerned. The relations of the various printers involved in the two editions are close. According to Isaac, the printing of the 1550 edition, in all its issues, is done by Nicholas Hill, who shared type with Whitchurch and Grafton (Grafton is responsible for the 1542 edition); the printers named in the colophons (Bonham and Reynes for 1542; Bonham, Kele, Petit and Toye for 1550) are part of a consortium.[27] These close relations provide additional support for the notion of a single marked-up copy of the 1532 edition used as printer's copy for both editions. Had another copy been chosen as printer's copy, there would be no reason to suspect any correspondence between the 1542 and 1550 editions as far as the marginal markings are concerned, unless there was a printed mark in the 1532 edition at the point of these correspondences.

The marginalia also help describe the nature of the printer's copy for the 1602 edition. The 1561 edition served as printer's copy for this edition, and its marginal fists may well have provided the inspiration for the fists in 1602, just as the incoherence of their placement could have inspired the rejection of the fists in 1598. The marginal fists in the 1602 edition, thus, do not represent the marginal fists actually printed in its printer's copy (otherwise they would correspond to those in the 1561 House of Fame) but rather indicate lines marked by hand in that copy. This would explain why no such fists appear in those sections of the book set from the edition of 1598--only the printed source text (ST) was marked, not the source text for these two poems. It also can explain why Speght claims in 1598 to have marked the text's proverbs ("Seuenthly, sentences noted"), when only the 1602 edition is so marked (see n. 25 above). The printer's copy used in 1598 may well have been so marked, just as Speght claims, but those marks were not introduced into the printed text (as marginal fists) until that copy was used again as printer's copy for the 1602 edition.