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textual criticism

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n. ~ Techniques that use varying copies to determine the authentic content of the original work.

Notes: 

When the original of a work no longer survives, textual criticism offers a means to infer the contents of the original. For example, different printings of a novel may have incorporated errors; different editions of Moby Dick might describe the rope in Ahab's boat as either a 'soiled snake' or a 'coiled snake'. If Melville's manuscript is not available, comparison of different printings can help determine the correct version.

Textual criticism includes recension, the identification of the earliest forms of the text, and emendation, the construction of a revised text that incorporates the most reliable variant.