The Intimate Reader at Work: Medieval Annotators of Piers Plowman B
Current criticism on medieval manuscript annotation practices tends to focus on the professional activities of scribes packaging their works for consumption; fifteen years ago Katherine Kerby-Fulton defined these scribes as professional readers. This essay uses the marginalia of PPl B-text MSS to propose an ‘intimate’ counterpart to that professional reader. The annotations discussed here sometimes come from the pens of casual readers, sometimes from the pens of Kerby-Fulton’s professionals themselves, modeling a self-referential and even emotional reading of L’s complex poem. The latter kind of readership is especially evident in one particular hand in BL Add. MS 35287 (M of B); this annotator plays a central role in the discussion because he both represents reading practices demonstrable across the B-text tradition and displays certain striking and unique traits that reveal him to be a particularly apt reader of L. As such, his copious annotations can often shed light on what might have drawn the attention of other readers who left much less communicative notes in their margins. By crediting the early readers of PPl with perceptive reception of the poem (as their notes amply demonstrate), we can question the divisions between private and public reading in the late medieval period. Likewise, our readings of L might be enriched by recognizing that his readers treated his work as a compendium, encyclopedia, or preacher’s handbook having not just religious and political aspirations but also an interest in quotidian secular concerns as well. Because L was likely very familiar with the scribal culture of his day, he could have anticipated such a use of his work, and this knowledge sanctions our own exploration of these generic affinities. (CS)
YLS, 26 (2012), 163-86.