Authorized Realities: The Gesta Romanorum and Thomas Hoccleve’s Poetics of Autobiography

This article concentrates on the manuscripts that Thomas Hoccleve used for his translations of the two tales from the Gesta Romanorum in his Series and demonstrates that the account of assembling the Series that Hoccleve’s narrative persona, Thomas, recounts in the framework narrative is broadly corroborated by the surviving manuscript evidence. This article shows that London, British Library, MS Harley 219, a literary manuscript discovered in 2018 and thought to have been written mostly in Hoccleve’s hand, preceded the composition of the Series. Next, a collation of Harley 219 with the recently published edition of the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum and with Hoccleve’s translation of the tales from the Gesta demonstrates that Harley 219 was the source text for Hoccleve’s translations. Finally, this article identifies the surviving copy of the Gesta Romanorum that Hoccleve’s persona claims to have been using for the translations in the Series. This, in turn, not only strengthens the reliability of Thomas’s persona and the credibility of his anonymous interlocutor, the Friend, but it also requires a reassessment of current notions of late medieval authorship in autobiographical settings.

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