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?

6 thoughts on “Blog Question 4/4

  1. I believe that Da had a more effective reading of Piers Plowman. Medieval writing is more times than not focused on morals, or heavier meanings than just a story. We see this in many different cases, such as Sir Gawain and the Green knight, the Canterbury Tales, Julian of Norwich, etc. With Piers Plowman, people of medieval times most likely looked to this work for moral insight, rather than just entertainment. Because of this, D annotator would have been more effective, since Da focused on meaning of the work instead of just the narration, which is what Xa does in his narration. If they focused more on Xa, then all they would have received is the entertainment and the narrative aspect of the story, which is also important. However, this is not why authors wrote stories such as Piers. This is why an annotator with annotations focused on the morals and the significance of the story, like Da, would have been much more popular.

  2. The story of Piers is a much longer story compared to other stories we’ve read, such as Sir Gawain or Sir Launfal, and most likely couldn’t be read in one sitting. Due to this, keeping the threads of the story together with all the alternate vision scenes may have made the purpose of the text more difficult to grasp for the average reader. Because of this, it’s useful to see Xa’s clarification of the narrative and Da’s notes on the important moral parts.
    Due to this, I think both Da and Xa had effective readings for different people in different stages of reading the text. In Xa’s case, if the reader did not understand the narrative Xa would assist in clarifying. Da’s notes on moral lessons couldn’t be understood assuming the text was too difficult to read. Once Xa’s clarifications are made Da highlights the moral lessons that the reader would need to understand from the text.

  3. This chapter on “Professional Readers at Work” really opened my eyes to the various ways texts were written, read and understood. It’s interesting to think that a single text could have such varied approached. As Kerby-Fulton points out, to a modern reader the annotations of a text don’t seem all that unusual but it really says something about the medieval reader. Although both X and D serve to supplement and help guide readers through the text, deciding on the effectiveness of either one really just depends on the kind of reader you are and the kind of reading experience you are looking for. Kerby-Fulton assures us that both versions of the text were effective but she does point out differences in experience, “the X annotator emphasizes the narrative structure in his key, the D annotator is more likely to be absorbed by the digressions themselves and is impatient to strip away the narrative as quickly as possible and get to the moral” (225). So again, both could provide effective interpretations of the text, it just depends on the kind of reading experience you are looking for.

    I think the varying annotations of Piers Plowman are just one example of the many different annotated medieval texts. It seems as though medieval readers had some choices when it came to reading a text and how they wanted to approach it. Perhaps a reader looking to interpret Piers in their own way and just have some help being guided through the narrative would choose to read version X. On the other hand, readers who wanted to understand the text more directly without regard to their own literary interpretation would reach for the D text.

  4. I think the argument in the book is that both Da and Xa were limited, but they somehow complement each other and together they offer the most complete reading of Piers. What was interesting to me is that these annotators seemed to adhere to one side of the text or the other (the surface or the subtext). As a literature student, I was taught that those surface connotations always lead us to the subtext, but Xa and Da seem to be treating them as separate entities. Xa refuses to attribute anything to anyone other than Will the fictional auctor (he would never indulge in the intentional fallacy). On the other hand the Da pays no attention to the narrator (228); he prefers the allegories. But the true meaning of the text cannot be found in the plot or the allegory–it can be found at the cross section of the plot and the allegory. The plot make a story specific and easy to relate to or follow. The allegories give a story longevity and meaning. Therefore both annotators are neglecting a key part of critical analysis.

  5. I don’t believe that one annotator’s comments would have been more beneficial than another. Each annotator focused on a different aspect of the story; therefore, I believe that they worked in tandem to help Medieval readers. Da focused on the moral teachings of Piers Plowman, while Xa focused on the actual interpretation of the narrative. Medieval readers would most likely be reading this for a spiritual teaching or as a moral guideline. But in order to get the full spiritual message out of the story, readers would also need a solid understanding of the physical narrative. Serious medieval readers would have relied on both annotations. I believe that medieval readers of Piers Plowman would have focused on both annotations for further understanding. I think about it in the way that we view footnotes today. Although footnotes are usually drawn from a variety of sources, we don’t value one person’s comments as more beneficial than another. We use all of them to create a solid understanding of a work. I believe medieval readers would have done the same thing in order to fully understand Piers Plowman no matter what their agenda was for reading the piece.

  6. I wanted to focus on the final question in this post specifically, regarding which annotator had a more effective reading of the text. When it comes to reading a text such as Piers Plowman, laced with nuance and allegory I am not sure that there could be such a thing as a more effective reading. In literary analysis it is not only important to study the text itself, but the various perspectives that readers and annotators have approached the text from. The perspective that Xa decides to read Piers Plowman from sets the reader up to interpret the moral lessons of the story totally on his or her own through a refined view of the story and the perspective that Da approaches the text from allows the reader compare and contrast their own analysis with the one they are provided. Although many middle english readers may have relied on the annotations within a manuscript to understand the text due to language or reading skills, readers then (just like readers today) were all approaching a text with personal biases, histories and assumptions that could be contested, improved and furthered. There is more of a conversation between the annotators and the readers than there is a one way interpretive dialogue coming from the annotators. The annotators are not creating the metaphor to be interpreted, they are in the process of interpretation themselves, therefore it is important to be exposed to as many different types of perspectives and approaches to a reading as are available!

    That being said, when a manuscript is taken as a whole and the original text is read alongside all annotations and marginalia it becomes an entity to interpret that cannot be separated into parts and must be taken as a whole. The modern reader benefits more from manuscript analysis when the manuscript is presented to them as a process of active comparison, agreement, disagreement, translation and interpretation. Annotations remind me of the comment section of a modern online database or news source. The more comments a reader is able to view, the better they can understand the general views of the public. Although the interpretations of a comment section may be diverse and at times conflicting, the reader benefits from an exposure to these contrasts and would be cheated out of a total interpretation of perspective if they chose just one type of comment to read.

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