Making Digital Marks on Medieval Manuscripts
Edited By Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel
I want to get to know this man better. I am staring at a screen of scrubbed text ready for mining. The text is that of Guillaume de Machaut’s Loanges des Dames, a collection of over 270 lyric, fixed-form poems that the fourteenth-century, French poet wrote over the course of his life, the vast majority are paeans to love and ladies, although occasional complaints about things such as gout creep in, too. The texts have been decapitalized, punctuation and diacritics have been removed, “stop words” have been applied. I am left with love word soup. I want to get to know Machaut better. To climb inside this mash of vocabulary and understand a man. I am not searching, I hasten to add, for the kind of authorial intention decried by the New Critics; for the “ghost” of Machaut standing behind his works and declaring that this here is just so, as he would want it. Instead, I want to be able to put my head inside the nuanced and ever-changing vista of a medieval poet, to find the ticks of habit that stayed with him through his life and which found expression in repeated snippets of phrases that he found rhythmically pleasing, to find the moments of rupture when something changed. Analyzing dendrograms, I wonder if a point where the visualization indicates a clustering of his later poetic output, a point that seems to suggest a shift in how he is writing, is the point where his beloved...
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