Blog Question 4/4

In OUMEM, Kerby-Fulton compares the various different ways that annotators of 3 different Piers Plowman manuscripts responded to the work. She notes that the annotator of D manuscript (Da) takes on a very popular Medieval reading style of reaching for the “kernel”, rather than the “chaff”. Simply, given that his audience would’ve been other clerically trained readers, he skipped explanations of narrative and went straight for the moral lesson. Despite this, she also notes that due to the attention to detail of Xa’s annotation on the narrative may reveal that Piers, as a vernacular poem, was almost as difficult to maneuver as a Latin set text.

What kind of challenges do you think that medieval readers of Piers Plowman would’ve had with the narrative structure that they may not experience with other works? Do you think Da or Xa had a more effective reading and why?

The Necessity of Revision

This semester I am also taking the Walt Whitman Seminar class, and one of the things that we’ve discussed is Whitman’s additions and revisions to Leaves of Grass. He released several editions of the text throughout his lifetime, adding in new work each time. Each new work was a response the changing world and ideologies around Whitman and in America. In this way, Whitman’s work was able to maintain a sense of relevancy and timeliness (though he rarely cites specific worldly events or things in his work). I really like his philosophy when it comes to revision; one of the theories that I’ve drawn from his work is that humanity is in constant revision. We will never reach a point of perfection because there is a consistency to progression and regression based on the cyclical nature of life. By being faced with struggles and regressions he’d encountered before, Whitman believed it to be a way to formulate a more clear identity of ourselves. We can’t not be who we were yesterday, and thus our identity comes from a formulation of who we were yesterday in conjunction with who we are today. Together, these two separate moments create a pathway for what our future will be.

I really like this philosophy in the context of Piers Plowman, which was also revised several times throughout its life as a manuscript. Each new revision was a response to the changing world and ideologies surrounding the manuscript. For example, the C manuscript (before 1385) is responsive to the Peasants Revolt. The text was able to survive and maintain a relevancy in Medieval culture because like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, it was responsive and timely. I think the copious amounts of different manuscripts and its long, active life during its time speaks to the necessity of revision overall. For the necessary advancement of culture and ideology, it is wise and at some points necessary to look back and revise what has already existed. By evaluating who we were and who we are now are necessary to create a new pathway for the future.

Developing the English Voice

After reading the last passage in the book, one thing that stuck out to me were how diverse the dialects across the English region were. The book lists Worcestershire, East Anglia, Yorkshire, Anglo-Ireland, as well as London as epicenters of various regional forms developing out of Anglo-Saxon English. I find it really interesting that in a space we would consider to be somewhat concentrated in our Modern world, that such a diversity in language can be found.

The book also mentioned how these various regions developed their prose and alliterative verse differently. The purpose of the structure of writing was to prompt the reader to take breaths and pauses where necessary when reading the text aloud. I thought this was really interesting when considering the various regions and their different uses of the English language. Today, when people from different parts of England (or even our country, for that matter) speak, there is a notable difference despite speaking the same language. The region as a collective has its own distinct sound and tone when using the language, speaking at pace particular to the region. For example, when considering the U.S. for instance, one typically describes the South as having a “slow drawl” while the North is seen as more fast- paced and abrupt speech. I wonder if these different regional tones and manners of speech may have developed due to the way that each region wrote them structurally. How has punctuation and structure affected regional tonality and accent?

Here’s a video where a guy uses 67 different accents in the English language that are all particular to a place/ region:


Thus far in the semester, dream visions seem to hold a really prominent place in Middle English Literature. The dream vision is supposed to be a recounting of what the author may have seen in a dream or vision and how it applies to their waking life. This is not so different from my own experience with dreams before taking this class. I am really fascinated by them and every time I have a pretty vivid one, I tend to do research on various symbols that stick out to me and that I can remember the next morning (a great site for this is I like to piece the various symbolic meanings in my dream together in order to make sense of the storyline and how it make sense to me personally. For example, a common dream that people tend to have involves death, which can symbolize either the end of something or a rebirth in their waking life. In other words, the dream is supposed to be representative in some way to the author/ person’s personal perspective and what they see in the world/ the waking life.

I guess what piques my interest about this mostly relates back to the author itself and is moreso a question I’ve been thinking about than anything else. If the dreams that we have are reflective of our own lives, how much of these Middle English dream visions are associated with the author’s own personal life? For instance, how much of Piers Plowman is directly from the author’s own experience? And if it is only a dream that they’ve had recounted, what of that dream applies to their own perspective of the world?

Words are Not Enough

In theatre, there are said to be two essential tools that any actor has: the voice and the body. The actor utilizes their voice to give life to the text, while blocking and movement creates dynamism and characterization on stage. Because scripts are generally published without images (though, sometimes first production photos are included), the actor has no context to create the visual, mobile version of their character. They must draw contextual clues from the text and become intelligent close readers in order to understand their character. In this way, the actor is akin to a manuscript’s illustrator: they must paint a picture of who this person is to the audience. Movement is sometimes even moreso important than the meaning of the words themselves, because people do not always mean what they say/ do what they mean. Body language and non-verbal communication is just as important to telling the story.

The difficulty, and perhaps what makes it most interesting, is that no actor will move or say the words exactly the same. The audience who sees Hamlet with the understudy in the lead will get a different experience than the audience who saw the original casting. However, its still important to carry the most essential plot points through the end and tell the story of the show; despite different actors’ perspective on the character, the basic storyline should still be clear to the audience.

Contextualizing this through reviewing Middle English Manuscripts, I find it relatable to the image vs. text debate. I think it would’ve been ineffective to only have a textually based manuscript; any person able to read it during the time may have drawn different conclusions about the meaning of the words. Because of this, the message of the poet may have been skewed (and by default, skewing the moral meaning). The images, like the actor’s movement based characterizations, provide a grounded and concrete message that speaks to the meaning of the words. Universally recognized symbols help guide the meaning of the poet’s words to create a more copacetic storyline that becomes (for the most part) the same to everyone in the audience. Words are so easily taken out of context; I think by using image based communication also, creators of these manuscripts expressed their meaning in a clearer and more widely understood way.