Rezension über:

Margaret Connolly / Thomas G. Duncan (eds.): The Middle English Mirror: Sermons from Quinquagesima to Pentecost (= Middle English Texts; 62), Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter 2021, XXII + 226 S., ISBN 978-3-8253-4878-6, EUR 60,00
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Rezension von:
Holly Johnson
English Department, Mississippi State University
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf Lützelschwab
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Holly Johnson: Rezension von: Margaret Connolly / Thomas G. Duncan (eds.): The Middle English Mirror: Sermons from Quinquagesima to Pentecost, Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter 2021, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 12 [15.12.2022], URL:

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Margaret Connolly / Thomas G. Duncan (eds.): The Middle English Mirror: Sermons from Quinquagesima to Pentecost

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The Middle English Mirror: Sermons from Quinquagesima to Pentecost is the second volume of Margaret Connolly and Thomas G. Duncan's masterful edition of the fourteenth-century Middle English Mirror which includes a parallel text of the thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman Miroir, of which it is a prose translation. The first volume, published in 2003, comprises the prologue and twelve sermons, from Advent to Sexagesima (the second Sunday before Ash Wednesday), and this second volume picks up with Quinquagesima (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday) and runs through Pentecost, which therefore includes fifteen sermons spanning the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter.

Written in verse, the Anglo-Norman Miroir, extant in ten manuscripts, is a sermon cycle composed in England in the thirteenth century by Robert de Gretham who names himself within the text. Along with its prologue, the Miroir comprises 53 sermons based on the Sunday Gospels, following the Use of Sarum, as well as seven additional sermons. The editors note that the material is for a theoretical, not actual, church year. Each sermon begins with a full translation of the gospel pericope, which it then expounds, including occasional lively exempla and numerous homiletic exhortations. Robert apparently prepared his work for a Dame Aline, "as an antidote to her preferred reading of romances" (Vol. 1, lix).

The Middle English prose translation, extant in six manuscripts, "abbreviates, expands, and modifies the Anglo-Norman text fairly fluently" (Vol. 1, xxxviii), and, interestingly (except in one manuscript), bases its translation of the Gospels on the Anglo-Norman work rather than on the Vulgate. On linguistic evidence, the majority of the extant manuscripts are associated with the London area, and the English translator appears to be reasonably educated, often introducing into his translation the Latin biblical texts. While the Anglo-Norman manuscripts containing the Miroir are generally high quality, seeming to be the works of professionally-trained scribes for a wealthy audience, the Middle English manuscripts are "plainer, more low-budget productions" (Vol. 1, lv) for an audience of both men and women. The editors conclude that the Anglo-Norman Miroir was the "product of the privileged, wealthy surroundings of an aristocratic household, probably in the Midlands," while the Middle English translation "was very much an urban-centred exercise" (Vol. 1, lix).

For their base text for each work, the editors use the same manuscript in both volumes and the same editorial principles. While both volumes include editorial principles, commentary, and a helpful Middle English glossary for words that might not be "readily comprehensible" (Vol. 2, 217), a full introduction to the two works and their relationship along with detailed descriptions of the manuscripts in which both works are extant can only be found in the first volume. The second volume includes a much shorter introduction that adds some further observations made by the editors along with addenda to the manuscript descriptions because further fragments witnesses have since come to light. One further point made in the second volume's introduction is that the Middle English translation is sometimes more repetitious than the Anglo-Norman Miroir, "without the benefit of sense, suggesting that the translator sometimes struggled to control his material" (xvi). The editors also note that some of the translator's errors were made because he misunderstood his source material but that he also deliberately omitted what did not suit his purposes. The second volume also includes a helpful updated bibliography. Neither volume includes an index of biblical citations or topics, both of which might have been helpful.

Overall, this volume, like the first one, is a welcome addition to the growing numbers of editions of medieval sermons, so many of which are still unedited and inaccessible to scholars and students. Each work is individually worthy of further study, and the parallel texts offer a fascinating avenue for exploring the concerns of a fourteenth-century translator. They also open a window onto the bilingual world of late medieval England, which, as the editors note in volume one, was still multilingual into the fifteenth century, as evidenced by the fact that manuscripts of the Anglo-Norman Miroir were still in use. While in the introductions to both volumes, the editors explore the ways the translator adapted his source, there is still room for further analysis and comparison.

My own impression is that the Anglo-Norman verse sermons are lively and rhetorically sophisticated, for example, using anaphora and dialogue to great effect; the Middle English translations replicate much of this sophistication in prose. For students unfamiliar with Middle English, the Middle English prose texts are fairly accessible and the vocabulary repetitive enough to learn fairly quickly. The glossary is very helpful for defining more unusual words, and the editors have done an excellent job of identifying those words. I was able to find there every word that puzzled me. In short, this handsome volume will be of interest to linguists, historians, and students of rhetoric, medieval sermons, and medieval literature.

Holly Johnson