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Jump to navigation Jump to search “Critical edition” redirects here. Textual criticism is a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and literary criticism that is concerned with the identification of textual variants in either manuscripts or printed books. There are many approaches to textual criticism, notably eclecticism, stemmatics, and copy-text editing. Textual criticism has been practiced for byu application essay examples two thousand years.

Many ancient works, such as the Bible and the Greek tragedies, survive in hundreds of copies, and the relationship of each copy to the original may be unclear. Textual scholars have debated for centuries which sources are most closely derived from the original, hence which readings in those sources are correct. In the English language, the works of Shakespeare have been a particularly fertile ground for textual criticism—both because the texts, as transmitted, contain a considerable amount of variation, and because the effort and expense of producing superior editions of his works have always been widely viewed as worthwhile. Maas comments further that “A dictation revised by the author must be regarded as equivalent to an autograph manuscript”. The lack of autograph manuscripts applies to many cultures other than Greek and Roman. In such a situation, a key objective becomes the identification of the first exemplar before any split in the tradition. That exemplar is known as the archetype.

The textual critic’s ultimate objective is the production of a “critical edition”. This contains the text that the author has determined most closely approximates the original, and is accompanied by an apparatus criticus or critical apparatus. Before mechanical printing, literature was copied by hand, and many variations were introduced by copyists. The age of printing made the scribal profession effectively redundant. Printed editions, while less susceptible to the proliferation of variations likely to arise during manual transmission, are nonetheless not immune to introducing variations from an author’s autograph. When comparing different documents, or “witnesses”, of a single, original text, the observed differences are called variant readings, or simply variants or readings. It is not always apparent which single variant represents the author’s original work.

The collation of all known variants of a text is referred to as a variorum, namely a work of textual criticism whereby all variations and emendations are set side by side so that a reader can track how textual decisions have been made in the preparation of a text for publication. Eclecticism refers to the practice of consulting a wide diversity of witnesses to a particular original. The practice is based on the principle that the more independent transmission histories there are, the less likely they will be to reproduce the same errors. Eclectic readings also normally give an impression of the number of witnesses to each available reading. Although a reading supported by the majority of witnesses is frequently preferred, this does not follow automatically.