May 22, 2014

The significance of the page

The layouts of a medieval manuscript’s individual pages expose valuable information about the manuscript, and therefore about texts. Some scholars are working ‘to reconstitute the page of the scribal manuscript as an authentic object in its own right. . . . [I]t is not a mere transparency through which the author’s “original” is to be viewed but rather an artifact of independent visual interest’ (Butterfield 49). Such scholars are trying to vouch for the worth of everything on any given manuscript page, because all added notes beyond the original text also reveal important information: ‘Every decision of layout—[including added glosses]—not only reflects the assumptions and cultural habits of medieval readers but also forms assumptions and habits that govern the way in which the text is received’ (Butterfield 49-50).

British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A.i, fol. 13r, detail (opening of Psalm 3)