Priscilla Bawcutt’s new edition of the poems of William Dunbar, the
greatest Scottish poet of the sixteenth century, is an essential reference for
all students of Scottish literature. As well as freshly established texts of
every poem, this edition contains a full introduction, a complete listing of
textual variants in all the early manuscripts and printings, extensive notes, a
glossary and a list of sources and secondary material.
Though Professor Bawcutt acknowledges her debt to previous editors, she
differs from them in many ways. She has rejected late accretions to the Dunbar
canon, while reinstating two problematic poems rejected by Kinsley in his 1979
edition. She has made many corrections to the transcription and interpretation
of the texts, valuing the variants in manuscripts other than the Bannatyne more
highly than previous editors and sometimes adopting a different copy text.
One of her chief concerns has been to elucidate not just the literal
sense but also the connotations of Dunbar’s words: the figurative and
metaphoric uses, the legalisms, poetic archaisms, puns and other wordplay, as
well as the use of proverbs, scriptural allusions and debts or affinity to
earlier poets. This has taken her into many varied and unexpected areas of
medieval life and thought in assembling her line-by-line commentary on every
poem in the edition. Readers will find much new information about obscure words
and phrases and no difficult passage is passed over silently.
These volumes are a tribute not only to the wonderful poet whose works
they contain but also to the industry, erudition and acumen of his latest
Last updated 10 August 2010.