Dialogues and Monologues: Manuscript Representations of the Conversation of the Confessio Amantis.

Echard, Sian.

Dialogues and Monologues: Manuscript Representations of the Conversation of the Confessio Amantis.

Middle English Poetry: Texts and Traditions. Essays in Honour of Derek Pearsall. Ed. A. J. Minnis. York: York Medieval Press, 2001, pp. 57-75.

As readers of JGN will already know, Echard has been engaged in a long-term study of the effect of MS design and layout upon reading and reception. In this new essay, she examines the use of "speaker markers," the identifications of "Amans" and "Confessor" that appear in the margins or text at the beginning of their respective speeches, in the complete or nearly complete MSS of CA. These are "the most flexibly treated of all the framing elements" of the text, she observes (58), varying in number, in placement, and in appearance (all of which it would be impossible to deduce accurately from Macaulay's edition). Fairfax has 280 such markers by Echard's count, but a large number of MSS have far fewer, whether out of scribal neglect, because of conflict with other design elements on the page, or because of a different understanding of how the poem should be read. A small quantity of MSS includes a greater number, supplying the markers at appropriate places where Fairfax does not. In many MSS, it is clear that the markers function as a design element as well as reading aid, in which cases they may yield to other elements that have a greater impact upon the appearance of the page. On the other hand, some scribes are careful to include the markers, even in their expanded form, "Opponit Confessor" and "Respondet Amans," even when the resulting appearance is awkward. When they do occur, the markers are generally (but not always) written in red, making them especially prominent. In some MSS, however, they are written at the end of the verse line rather than in the white space of the margins, where they have significantly greater impact. In a small number of copies they are centered in the text column, a practice imitated by Caxton. As she considers the significance of these variations, Echard makes an interesting distinction between seeing the poem as a collection of stories and seeing it as a dialogue; and while the long Latin glosses to the tales that appear in the margins or the text column of most MSS draw attention to the narrative portion of the work, the speaker markers pull in the opposite direction, and in the MS that first got Echard interested in the difference, they align CA with the form of Boethius' "De Consolatione Philosophiae," a version of which is included, in the same format, in the same book. The use of the longer speaker markers emphasizes, in turn, the confessional aspect of the poem. Echard is very cautious about equating effect with intent (74). She also notes a distinction "between manuscripts intended chiefly to be looked at, and manuscripts intended to be read" (75). Her observations, however, both about the way in which appearance affects reading and vice versa, are of significance not only to the early reception of the poem but also to the way in which it is presented in modern editions. [PN. JGN 22.1. Copyright John Gower Society]


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies