Before the technology of print, every book was unique. Two manuscripts of the "same" text could package and transmit that text very differently, depending on the choices made by scribes, compilers, translators, annotators, and decorators. Is it appropriate, Elizabeth Bryan asks, for us to read these books as products of a single author's consciousness? And if not, how do we read them?
In Collaborative Meaning in Medieval Scribal Culture, Bryan compares examples from the British Library Cotton Otho C.xiii manuscript of La3amon's Brut, the early thirteenth-century verse history that translated King Arthur into English for the first time. She discovers cultural attitudes that valued communal aspects of manuscript texts--for example, a view of the physical book as connecting all who read or even held it to each other.
The study is divided into two parts. Part one presents Early Middle English concepts of "enjoining" texts and explores the theoretical and methodological challenges they pose to present-day readers of scribally-produced texts. Part two conducts a detailed study of the multiple interpretations built into the manuscript text. Illustrations of manuscript pages accompany analysis, and the reader is invited to engage in interpreting the manuscript text.
Collaborative Meaning in Medieval Scribal Culture will be of interest to students and specialists in medieval chronicle histories, Middle English, Arthurian literature, and literary and textual theory.
Elizabeth J. Bryan is Associate Professor of English, Brown University.