Circle of Interdisciplinary Research for Critical Editions
The Newe MetamorphosisFor several years now a group of students at the English Department has been working on an unpublished early Stuart poem, The Newe Metamorphosis (British Library Add. MS 14824-14826). It is about 1000 pages long, and is dated 1600 on the title-page which also carries the inscription "by I. [or J.] M." Being written in a neat secretary hand, with many corrections, extensive additions and marginal notes in the same hand, it is, apparently, an autograph fair copy. We started by reading and transcribing samples from this poem; this created enough interest to initiate an informal workgroup with the aim of assembling a complete transcription of the text, and eventually a commentary. By now, the transcript is complete, and substantial parts of it have been annotated in a number of examination papers and MA theses
In the only book-length study of the manuscript, a 1919 Columbia University doctoral thesis by J.H.H. Lyon, The Newe Metamorphosis has been ascribed to Shakespeare's contemporary (and possible rival) Gervase Markham who is best known for his writings on horsemanship and husbandry. Lyon's conclusions, which are largely based on internal biographical evidence, have been accepted and confirmed by F.N.L. Poynter in his bibliographical study of Gervase Markham's works, again mainly on biographical grounds. As far as we know, Lyon did not have immediate access to British libraries or archives and is not quite reliable in questions of date (he gives 1615 as terminus ante quem; there is, however, a reference to the Great Frost as having occurred 14 years ago, which pushes the date of completion of the MS forward to 1622), and Poynter was mainly concerned with the printed works of Markham. Further research might qualify their findings. Autographs in Gervase Markham's hand are very rare; a preliminary comparison of the spellings in one of them, a short dedication sonnet (inscribed in a copy of his Devoreux, 1597, now in the Bodleian Library), with those in TNM shows such marked differences that Lyon's ascription must be called in doubt on the strength of this very limited evidence alone (see the summary of Jan Gerstenberger's MA thesis on the Papers and Theses page; his findings virtually rule out the possibility that The Newe Metamorphosis was written by Gervase Markham).
To transcribe a manuscript of this length is a daunting task, and an ideal object for teamwork. One reason for going online with the project is to prevent this task from being tackled twice by different groups or individuals. The object seems too remote for such a coincidence, but one never knows. We only recently learned that Gavin Alexander, who coordinates, together with Raphael Lyne, an electronic newsgroup, CERES, from Cambridge, was tempted to try his hand at it.
Writing explanatory notes for a text like that of The Newe Metamorphosis is even more daunting than transcribing it. In the Prologue, Cupid and Momus are invoked as patrons of the poem, and this points to its double structure as a collection of mythological tales modelled on the Ovidian example, and a satire on the corruptions of early 17th century England, as seen through the eyes of an author with Puritan leanings. The second reason for going online with the project is to call for help in collecting information on some of the more arcane allusions in the text, which was written by an author of considerable learning and wide-ranging experience. He can quote from a long list of obscure Papist treatises on one page, and give a first-hand report of the Cadiz expedition on the next.
Apart from its literary and historical interest the manuscript, once it
has been transcribed and put into a word-processing format, should be of
great value for various kinds of linguistic studies. There are not many
autograph manuscripts of such length; interior evidence suggests that it
was written over at twenty-year period; this should make it an interesting
subject for investigations into the spelling and punctuation habits of
an educated writer in a time of transition towards a rudimentary standardisation
of the language. The variety of subject matter of the poem is mirrored
in its language which is marked by a great number of registers and further
diversified by the author's penchant for the cruder kinds of wordplay.
The vocabulary is particularly rich in slang and otherwise unconventional
expressions (some of these, such as "buttered bun", antedating the first
recorded OED quotations by decades). We are mainly interested in the literary
side of the text, but would be glad to exchange information on its linguistic
features as well.
[Photo of the cover of Add. MS 14824]
[Sample Pages from "The Newe Metamorphosis"]
These pages are maintained by Martin Fritzen (email@example.com)
Last updated: 10 June 2001