in The Burley manuscript
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From detailed study of a number of Burley’s texts ranging from William Browne’s epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke to Overbury’s prose ’Characters’, the proposition that many such texts were inscribed from memory is developed. Memorised texts have hitherto normally been mistrusted as sources of authority, but it is shown here how they may indeed be closer to the original than some scribal copies. The implications of this possibility for the establishment of ‘best’ texts for some literary works are discussed, and it is concluded that Burley has something to offer in this regard, particularly for several of the works of John Donne. A discussion of the role of memorisation in Renaissance education shows that to memorise with reasonable accuracy even long prose texts would have required neither prodigious skill nor abnormal behaviour on the part of either the scribe or the person providing the copy-text for or dictating what the scribe wrote.

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