Doane observes that the work of a scribe in a society which treated speech as a matter of prime importance would include a strong perception of the performative aspects of communication. Doane ties this idea to the concept of “ethnopoetics,” which recognizes that texts transmit not only meaning, but, even through their structure, may provide insight into some non-linguistic elements of communication (Doane 1994, 420). In light of these ideas, Doane proposes “that the Anglo-Saxon scribe copying vernacular texts, and particularly vernacular poetic texts, is in many cases a special kind of speaking performer” (Doane 1994, 421). The difference, of course, is that the performance takes the form of writing. In effect, the scribe’s work is an exhibition of his virtuosity in communication, but through writing rather than speech (Doane 1994, 423).
One of the problems faced in a study of oral tradition is our tendency to assign a status of fixity to works which have been written down (Doane 1994, 424). This difficulty may be exacerbated in the case of Anglo-Saxon works, by the fact that we have very few manuscripts which preserve vernacular poetic texts as a substantial part of the work. Doane takes this to mean that Anglo-Saxon vernacular poetry was rare or, at least, that it was rarely codified in writing. Of particular interest, though, “a few poetic texts, amounting to several thousand lines, are preserved in two copies . . . never are these two-copy texts written in such a way that they could be said to be identical” (Doane 1994, 425). The variations seem to make sense, and the poems are clearly the same poems, but are worded differently. Doane also finds variation in the manuscript style. Spacing and various diacritical markings seem to indicate pace or tone. Doane illustrates the difference with a parallel text sample (Doane 1994, 426-427).
Doane suggests that a presentation of a text such as the Anglo-Saxon oral poetry may validly provide some manuscript-based interpretive guidance (Doane 1994, 429).
Doane theorizes that native AngloSaxon Christian scribes would typically be monks, conversant with Latin communication, but more attuned to the tone and behavior of communication in their native language (Doane 1994, 431). Because the texts were not liturgical texts, repeated frequently, a copy would depend more upon memory and a flexible manner of communication. Identification of a “correct” form could be difficult or even inconsequential (Doane 1994, 432).
Doane suggests that, since copies of poetry were made for use, rather than for preservation, it is quite possible that the scribes “always varied the text, as if the mere copying of a text was bad form, or empty form” (Doane 1994, 434). This is consistent with the view of copying as a sort of performance. In like manner, Doane expects the actual oral work to have developed over time until it was codified in writing (Doane 1994, 435).