Dr Daniel Sawyer

My recent book, Reading English Verse in Manuscript c.1350–c.1500, offers the first monograph-length history of reading for later Middle English verse. It is developed from the close consultation of hundreds of surviving medieval manuscripts, and deploys techniques ranging from close readings of rhyme and syntax to surveys of manuscript weight to establish a new ‘baseline’ picture of the reading practices which were applied to English verse. I show how later medieval readers navigated through poems, handled books of poetry, and responded to poetic form, and I flip the present-day canon of Middle English verse inside out, demonstrating that readers at the time saw a landscape of poems rather different to that perceived by much scholarship today.

I'm writing a second book which draws on the field's current interest in broader literary currents beyond the British Isles. This shift offers an important chance to recover the strange and peripheral nature of most poetry of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries in England. By recovering what the state of English verse in this period would have seemed like to readers coming from elsewhere, rooted in more secure and more confident verse traditions, I can reconfigure our literary history. As a first move for this book, I'm publishing an article in July 2021 on a poem which conventional literary history says shouldn't exist, a Shakespearean sonnet from 1448/9, embedded in a romance which imagines itself as a story coming from Persia and translated from Greek.

I also have a longer-term project underway, examining the manuscripts which do not survive from the period—which is to say, most of the manuscripts which once existed. This loss of material is a widely acknowledged hurdle for research, but the missing books have received little attention as a problem in and of themselves. Many now-lost manuscripts have left small traces of evidence behind, however, and by gathering these on a large scale we can fill in more of the period’s literary and book history. Writers and book producers themselves sometimes thought about the loss and destruction of books, and I will also be providing a literary-critical examination of this theme in their work. The first result of this project is a substantial article published in 2019.

I'm involved in two major textual-critical efforts. First, I am helping to work towards a new edition of the Wycliffite Bible, the first complete English translation of the Bible. This text, originating in Oxford in the late fourteenth century, is the most sophisticated and most successful of the medieval European vernacular Bible translations. Oxford’s long-term project to re-edit the Wycliffite Bible can be found online here. Second, as part of the new Cambridge Chaucer, I'm editing the Cook’s Tale and the Man of Law’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales.

At Merton College I teach Old English and early Middle English (Prelims Paper 2), later Middle English (FHS Paper 2), and English language studies (Prelims 1A). I serve as the director of studies for second- and third-year undergraduates taking ‘Course II’, the version of Oxford’s English degree which focuses on earlier literatures and the history of English. In some years I have taught specialist papers on topics such as the long history of Arthurian literature c.500–2000, or the material text in premodern England.

I have also taught the palaeography and codicology course on Oxford’s MSt in English, lectured on various topics at the English Faculty at for the Digital Humanities Summer School, supervised BA, MSt, and MPhil dissertations, and undertaken various examining duties.

See also my college profile, my website and my Twitter profile.

I have reviewed books for, or am currently reviewing books for, Speculum, The Library, The English Historical Review, The Review of English Studies, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, the Journal of the Early Book Society and Arthuriana. I welcome review requests from editors and consider them all carefully, though I cannot guarantee that I will take them all on!

Publications