Manuscript Mise-en-scene

In the Opening Up Middle English Manuscripts textbook chapter “The Power of Images,” there is much discussion revolving around the religious ethics behind images, but not a great deal of attention is paid to how these images change the readership experience. Take Piers Plowman, I was exposed to these images before we were assigned the reading, so my visualization is largely informed by the images now that I am reading. Would my Piers Plowman experience be different if I never saw them?

In observing the Prick of Conscience manuscript, the texts analyzes the apparent emotion with which the scribe also illustrates the story. The author demonstrates a desire for the manuscript to carry a significant aesthetic value, as the script form, color, and placement work in tandem to develop the story’s narrative. The OUMEM’s authors make note of the manuscript’s aesthetic as a priority for the script’s creator, claiming that they express “triumphant enthusiasm as having ‘delivered’ the poem” (OUMEM 200) a feat celebrated by the proud stork image at the story’s end. I think this idea is a part of an interesting conversation that continues to this day- is our experience with literature maximized or diminished by invoking our senses beyond text? For the time Prick of Conscience, Piers Plowman and others were produced, the use of illustrations was revolutionary for the reader experience. With every page, the narration was teamed with images which worked in tandem with text to tell a story, so the authors fully committed to this dynamic. In a way, this literary “experience” fits on a sensory spectrum that continues to stretch with time, as images, sounds and texts are continually merged in experimental ways through movies, shows and other mediums of entertainment. Thus, to this day we find ourselves space with literature not unlike that experienced in 14th century England.

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