Digital Humanities Libraries Palaeography Student Projects

UNIQ+ Project: ‘The Pleasuant Playne and Pythye Pathewaye’

‘The Pleasuant Playne and Pythye Pathewaye : a digital edition’ is available to read now on the Taylor Editions website

Self-help texts are hardly a novel concept in our modern world. A self-help text from the 16th century, however, is quite the exciting read! My first cursory glance at the riveting rhetoric within A Pleasaunt Playne and Pythe Pathewaye had me equally fascinated and amused, and so I was delighted to be able to work with the text during my UNIQ+ internship. The text proved to be quite the exciting challenge to transcribe and encode!

The text was written by Valentine Leigh, and it appears to have been printed circa 1552 by Nicolas Hill, on behalf of John Case. It is generally in good condition, with very little damage obscuring the text (save for a trimmed leaf here and there). However, I did find good evidence that two folios are missing – though this did not detract too much from the text.

The content of the text is broadly divided into two sections, wherein two distinct dialogues occur. These dialogues are written to educate the reader about how best to live their life, and what actions or behaviors to avoid. On the title page are two fascinating woodcuts that, to me, represent the dialogues within the text. One woodcut depicts a younger man who is facing an older man (as seen at the top of this blog). This appears to be in reference to the first dialogue, in which two men meet and discuss their lives – the older man attempting to educate the younger. In the bottom woodcut, there is a woman depicted, adorned with wings in an angelic fashion and surrounded by beautiful ornamental decorations. The topic of the second dialogue is a young man’s quest to win the heart of a beautiful woman (see below).

Title-page woodcut: folio [I]r

The text begins with a foreword from the author which lays out his intentions and the rhyming pattern of the entire text. The author then politely asks the reader to tolerate this rhyming scheme (see below). After this, he introduces the text before entering into the first dialogue section.

Introductory Poem: folio [I]v

The first dialogue takes place between a young man and an old man who meet on the road. The young man declares his name to be Nitnelaue, which is likely an anagram of the author’s own forename of ‘Valentine’. Nitnelaue, tells his story and laments that he is prone to all manner of vices such as idleness and drunkenness. Thereafter, he asks for advice. The Old Man attentively listens to this story and, in great detail, gives the younger man the advice he asked for. This advice, which goes on for some time, I can aptly summarize as “Praise God, and get a job”.

The second dialogue, and certainly my favourite, I like to call “‘Lustie Lewes’ and his failed quest for love”. This dialogue is clearly presented as a cautionary tale about falling in love with a stranger, as the author declares shortly after its end (translated into modern English):

 And not to love one before her manners you do know, 
But first know her, then love her, and so it will grow.
read here

The protagonist falls in love with a beautiful woman called Grace, and tries, and fails, with various strategies to win her heart. Finally, he, in true 1980s romantic-comedy tradition, writes and performs for her a song – in this case on a harp. And then, once again, fails miserably.

This tragic tale is available to read here

And now onto the encoding! I was rather lucky in that I managed to find a pre-existing transcription of this text from Early English Books Online – however, it was not perfect, as no transcription is, and so I naturally had to do a lot of correcting. However, it served as an excellent foundation for my encoding with TEI, and I was very glad of the assistance given the great length of the text.

In terms of my principles, as I was very new to both transcription and encoding, I tried to represent the text as close to the original as possible, despite the inherent challenges this would bring. As such, many grammatical oddities to a modern reader have remained. I did, however, opt to expand on certain diacritical marks such as the macron as it was clear the author simply ran out of space on the leaf.

I was particularly eager to preserve the original rhyming characteristics of the text and have this represented within TEI, and so did not modernize any of the rhyming words or phrases. I encased each rhyme in the <rhyme> element and placed the rhyme attribute within each <lg> (line group) element. As the rhyming pattern typically follows an AA pattern, the reader should be able to deduce pronunciation in most cases from one of the rhymes in the scheme. My motivation for this was largely inspired by the Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation movement. Often, modern translations can omit or overlook some of the nuances in older texts – something I was very keen to avoid for this kind of text.

However, as I initially struggled with reading and comprehending the text, I wanted to enhance its readability in other ways. I found the best way to do this was to group the text into the <sp>, or speaker, element. By breaking up the text into different speakers, it made it much easier to follow. And, at Henrike’s suggestion, I also intend to colour code each speaker to make it even easier. I also found rhyming a key feature of the text, so I made prominent usage out of the rhyming element and labelled each rhyme, matching each pair.

I am very pleased indeed with how this project turned out and have had such a wonderful experience with Oxford University. I would like to thank all those I worked with for making me feel incredibly welcome and respected every step of the way and I look forward to visiting Oxford in November!

Ciarán Fogerty is one of this year’s UNIQ+ interns with the History of The Book. He studied history at the University of South Wales, where he focused particularly upon the history and culture of South Wales, Transatlantic Slavery, and the Industrial Revolution.

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