Journal of the Northern Renaissance

~ Radical Open Access ~

‘The Palyce of Honour’

Reviewed by Megan Bushnell

David J. Parkinson (ed.), Gavin Douglas: ‘The Palyce of Honour’, Second Edition (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2018). ISBN: 9781580443722 (PB), 9781580443739 (HB), ix + 222 pp., £19.50 (PB), £70 (HB).

[1] The Palice of Honour (c. 1501) is a long dream vision poem (2169 lines), written by the Scottish Makar Gavin Douglas (c. 1475-1522). Often recognised as the pinnacle of the Scottish aureate style, this poem nevertheless is often analysed in relation to works it is associated with or echoes—like Douglas’ later work the Eneados (1513) or Chaucer’s House of Fame (c. 1380). David J. Parkinson’s new edition of this poem, entitled Gavin Douglas: The Palyce of Honour, is an example of a current trend of updated editions of works by Scottish Makars. As with the poem itself, evaluation of this edition is necessarily dominated by comparisons to editions that came before—specifically Priscilla Bawcutt’s edition of the poem in The Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas (1967, 2003), which was created for the Scottish Text Society, and David Parkinson’s first iteration of this edition (Gavin Douglas—The Palis of Honoure, 1992).

[2] The primary difference between Parkinson’s editions and Bawcutt’s work—and indeed all other modern editions—is that his text is based mostly on the London edition, printed by William Copland (c. 1553), as opposed to the later Edinburgh edition, printed by John Ross for Henry Charteris (1579). Bawcutt, on the other hand, provides the text of both editions for comparison, though gives the Edinburgh edition priority by placing it on the recto side of the page. Parkinson’s reasons for using the London edition largely echoes Bawcutt’s analysis of the two witnesses: the London edition better preserves archaic lexical items, the Edinburgh edition is subject to more editorial intervention, and there is no evidence that the Edinburgh variants carry authorial intent. However, while Bawcutt is reluctant to claim that either witness is more authoritative, Parkinson (1992) favours the London edition, ostensibly because it is an earlier witness. His argument is convincing, although his case for the primacy of the London edition has noticeably softened in this edition compared to his earlier work. The impression is that he is trying to convey the nuance of the complicated textual history of the Palice of Honour. However, such positioning sometimes unnecessarily prolongs and obfuscates his argument.

[3] Aside from this difference in source material, Bawcutt’s and Parkinson’s editions also differ in their purpose. Bawcutt’s was created for the Scottish Text Society, which aims primarily to make Scottish texts available to a wide audience—some of whom may not be interested in the texts as objects of study. By contrast, Parkinson’s editions (both the first and second) are part of the TEAMS Middle English Texts Series, which aim to create editions specifically for students. As such, Parkinson’s introduction is much longer and more comprehensive than Bawcutt’s or even Parkinson’s first edition. This is a benefit as it allows Parkinson to provide extra resources to aid students, like the ‘Language’ section, which formally introduces readers to Medieval Scots. He is also able to update his introduction to reference more recent criticism and discoveries. These include the manuscript fragment Sally Mapstone discovered, which is likely related to the lost edition (probably) printed by Thomas Davidson (c. 1530-50). This is the first edition of the Palice of Honour to include this fragment in its list of textual witnesses.

[4] The glosses, notes, and reference material are the strongest aspects of Parkinson’s editions and are much more robust than what is available in previous editions. Moreover, the content in this edition is almost completely revised from what was featured in Parkinson’s previous one. Many of these revisions are very effective: there are more explanatory and textual notes that are also of greater detail and better formatted for cross-referencing. There is an expanded glossary that references every instance a word appears along with its alternative spellings. There is an index of names that elucidates Douglas’ obscure allusions. All of these are invaluable resources when reading the poem.

[5] While none of the revisions of the paratext are ineffective, they do at times feel unnecessary. For example, Parkinson completely revises the gloss from his earlier edition, but there is no consistent movement towards more condensed, or more concrete, or more informative glosses between the two editions. Similarly, Parkinson scraps most of his footnotes from the 1992 edition and yet goes to the trouble of supplying new ones in the 2018 edition, without building on the old. The result is that he has, quite literally, created a brand-new edition that is almost completely different from the first one—even the spelling of the title has changed. The purpose of this appears to be to create an edition of the text of the Palice of Honour itself, as opposed to one focusing more on the London edition specifically—which seems to be the aim of the Parkinson’s earlier work. This distinction is illustrated by the new title (Palyce of Honour) which is based on Douglas’ practice within the text rather than the title assigned by Copland (Palis of Honoure). However, as this edition is still based largely on the London text, and was achieved through its careful study, this is a subtle distinction that is at times difficult to grasp in Parkinson’s editing process.

[6] Nevertheless, this is an excellent text for students and researchers alike and a useful update on the first edition. The added resources are helpful for anyone new to the study of Douglas’ work. At the same time, Parkinson’s efforts to make the text accessible are not so intrusive that they interfere with the text’s utility for research. Moreover, the availability of the text online complete with introduction, gloss, footnotes, and index (though minus glossary and acknowledgements) and its practical split-screen format makes the text especially approachable ( The creation of this edition with its extensive paratext reflects the growing importance of Scots in the medieval canon and the growing respect for the Palice of Honour as an important work itself. It indicates not just a continuation, but an increase of interest in the Scottish Makars and will no doubt facilitate new insights into this text for years to come.

University of Oxford, December 2019

Next Post

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

© 2023 Journal of the Northern Renaissance

Theme by Anders Norén