Title Background

Form and Sign in the Margins: Annotating <i>Oon of Foure</i>

Form and Sign in the Margins: Annotating Oon of Foure

This essay is part of the ‘Forms of Faith’ cluster, curated by Mary Raschko and Elizabeth Schirmer. Schirmer finds in the margins of Oon of Foure a space for the active reception of lollard ideas and textual forms. Schirmer considers three manuscripts whose margins contain pictorial as well as verbal annotations, challenging an implicit lollard moratorium on representational imagery: British Library, MSS Royal 17 C.xxxiii and Royal 17 D.viii, and Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 978. Rather than see these images as evidence of orthodox provenance, this article reads them as creative adaptations of Wycliffite formal principles. Focusing in particular on the margins of Bodley 978, it locates here a coherent system of ‘key-object annotation’ that re-theorizes the marginal object as sign. The three sections of the article offer a threefold framing of the Bodley annotative system: with Wycliffite scriptural forms; with lollard theories of the religious image as sign; and with the mainstream arma Christi tradition, which may have provided a model of object-based representation. Schrimer argues that early Wycliffite biblical translators developed a formalist approach to the transmission of scripture, in which a standardized set of textual and paratextual elements collaborate as material forms mediating biblical meaning in English. The Oon of Foure tradition reflects the principles of Wycliffite scriptural formalism, with individual manuscripts occasionally adapting its elements in creative ways. In the two Royal MSS and Bodley 978, the margins of Oon of Foure become sites for experimentation with visual annotative forms. In Bodley, those experiments construct the marginal gloss as object in ways that resonate with lollard iconology: blurring any distinction between word and image as sign while at the same time distinguishing sharply between dead objects and living bodies. These moves, which deviate from mainstream Aristotelian theories of the object as sign, serve in Bodley to subordinate the (dead) marginal objects to the (living) scriptural text from which it is drawn, inoculating the annotators’ hermeneutic practice. The final section of the article reads the Bodley marginal passion sequence as a reformist arma Christi, its stark series of images combining with keyword annotations to recast the passion as a drama of law/Law. Lollardy itself emerges from this reading, less as a coherent ideological movement than as a set of discursive resources for innovative reformist projects in the vernacular.