Decorated Initials in Pearl (BL, Cotton Nero A.x)

I’ve been working on my Kalamazoo-ICMS paper on Pearl and Holy Name devotion. Part of my discussion has involved the decorated capital at the top of fol 49r (line 721; opening of Section XIII), where the name Jesus–Ihs in the manuscript–replaces the refrain word from Section XII, Ryght. My interest in the Ihs in Section XIII led me to look for scholarly treatments of the decorated capitals in Pearl (and the Cotton Nero MS more generally), of which there are few. The best treatment that I have come across is A.S.G. Edwards’ essay in the Companion, which deals with the capitals in about a page. Thanks to the University of Calgary’s wonderful Cotton Nero A.x Project , anyone can explore this small-but-so-important and fascinating manuscript at their leisure (or under deadline duress), but I have compiled my own notes and observations about each of the decorated capitals–21 in all–for you here.

Each entry includes a link to the folio on which the capital appears. I’ve tried to be systematic and consistent throughout, but I also confess this started as a haphazard collection of jotted notes. This document is a work-in-progess, so please let me know if you spot any errors or have further insights to add. Comment below or email me at bsw [dot] barootes [at] utoronto [dot] ca.

The materiality of the Cotton Nero manuscript, too often passed off as nothing to write home (or on the internet, or in the journals) about, is worth exploring further. Often laughed off for its seeming shoddiness–one early commentator shat on the illustrations’ coarse execution while many other critics point to the 400-odd scribal errors–its contents, quality (or qualities), and size–it’s the same size as the postcard my sister sent from Portugal, the same size as the framed picture of your kids on your desk–speak to an interest in reading and rereading, an interest in frequently engaging with important topics that have local and universal resonances.

ICMS (Kalamazoo) Session

I’ve organised the session “Ihesu dulcis: Devotion to the Holy Name in Medieval Europe” at the 52nd annual International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 11-14, Western Michigan University). The session offers three papers that examine Holy Name devotion in vernacular texts and practices in the late-medieval period (with a focus on England in particular). Stephen Moore’s paper, “Chivalry, Piety, and Devotion to the Name of Christ in Marie de France’s Saint Patrick’s Purgatory,” addresses Owein’s dedication to, and reliance on, the Holy Name, with a special emphasis on Marie’s use of the imagery of sound. My own paper, “‘et in calculo nomen novum scriptum‘: Pearl and the Holy Name of Jesus,” considers some intriguing parallels between the fourteenth-century elegiac dream vision and the votive mass of the Holy Name of Jesus as found in the Beauchamp Missal (Oxford, Trinity College MS 8). Finally, Rob Lutton’s “Action and Interpretation in the Late Medieval English Cult of the Holy Name of Jesus” draws on religious miscellanies, luturgical texts, and material artefacts to interrogate how the Christocentric turn to the human name of Jesus affected the practices of ordinary Christians.

This promises to be an exciting and interesting session. We hope to see many of you there.

Session 30 Bernhard 158 – Thursday at 10.00 AM (May 11)

Chair: Laura Godfrey, Univ. of Connecticut

“Chivalry, Piety, and Devotion to the Name of Christ in Marie de France’s Saint Patrick’s Purgatory
Stephen G. Moore, Univ. of Regina

“‘et in calculo nomen novum scriptum‘: Pearl and the Holy Name of Jesus”
B.S.W. Barootes, Univ. of Toronto

“Action and Interpretation in the Late Medieval English Cult of the Holy Name of Jesus”
Rob Lutton, Univ. of Nottingham

A new article: Apostrophe in Pearl

I’m happy to announce that my article, “‘O perle’: Apostrophe in Pearl“, has been published in the most recent issue of Studies in Philology (113.4). You can find a link to the article on my Publications page. My thanks to Reid Barbour and Caitlin Watt at SiP and to the anonymous readers.

Here’s the abstract:

This article addresses the Pearl-poet’s use of apostrophe in his elegiac dream vision.
Drawing on classical and medieval discussions of this rhetorical device, as well as contemporary poetic criticism, it argues that the trajectory of apostrophe in the poem traces the development of the Mourner-Dreamer as he gains insight from the Pearl-maiden’s lesson and moves toward consolation. The Mourner’s calls to his lost pearl in the proem demonstrate the unproductive cycle of his sorrow. His apostrophes to the Maiden in the early part of his dream similarly threaten to undo the solace he gains in the earthly paradise. By contrast, the Maiden’s three short apostrophes serve an exemplary function and show the Dreamer how to deploy apostrophe without getting caught up in the diversionary aspects of the device. In the closing frame of the poem, the now-awakened Dreamer uses apostrophe in a controlled manner that permits him to turn away from the isolation of grief.

Off to Making Early Middle English

This week I’m jetting out to Victoria, BC, for the Making Early Middle English conference (, which promises to be an excellent gathering. I’ll be presenting “Chess and Fablis: Cursor Mundi and the Book of the Duchess”, a paper that looks at how idleness is presented in both texts and its relationship with gaming and tale-telling. This conference paper is the first airing of the work I’ve been doing for a chapter-length study on the same subject. I’m very much looking forward to talking about these two texts, both of which are understudied (the former more than the latter, of course), and I’m sure I’ll leave with plenty of insights, suggestions, and improvements courtesy of the excellent colleagues gathering in Victoria. 

Another school year begins

I started teaching a new class at a new university yesterday. For the next four months, I have the pleasure of teaching English 214: Medieval Poetry of the Fantastic at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus. We started with the Norse creation myths and Ragnarok yesterday and we move on to Beowulf and selections from the Kalevala next. I’m very much looking forward to exploring these texts with an engaged group of students. (And cheers to them for being lively for three hours starting at 7.00 PM!)

Here is the course description:

This course invites students to explore the fantastic worlds of medieval poetry. Our reading will take us from the glaciers and volcanoes of thirteen-century Iceland to the Celtic underworld, from the glorious courts of the High Middle Ages to the dark forests of ancient Karelia, and from earthly paradises to heavenly cities. We will encounter questing knights, powerful elf queens, chanting sorcerers, and poetic dreamers. Most of the texts will be studied in modern translations from Old Norse, Middle Welsh, Old French, and Finnish, as well as Old and Middle English. One of the goals of this class is to introduce students to Middle English language. (It’s not as hard as it looks!) Beginning with an hour-long introductory session in Week Seven, we will practice reading the London dialect of Middle English in each class. By Week Twelve, students will have sufficient experience with the language to work through one of Chaucer’s early dream visions.


Hot off the e-presses

The article I mentioned in the last post, “Number Symbolism in Pearl: Lines 720-721,” was published online today. I am amazed at the speed and efficiency of this process. Many thanks to the editors of Studia Neophilologica and to Heather Wallace at Taylor & Francis.

You can find a link to the article on the Publications page.

A Forthcoming Article

I’m delighted to announce that my short article, “Number Symbolism in Pearl: Lines 720-721,” has been accepted at Studia Neophilologica. I’ll be sure to post the essay once it’s published; in the meantime, here is the abstract:

Concatenation is one of the hallmarks of the intricately wrought dream vision Pearl. However, in the transition from Section XII to XIII (lines 720–721), this structuring device fails. While several scholars have attempted to explain this breakdown of formal integrity, few have considered its numeric resonances. The crux at lines 720–721 can be read as an intensification of the symbolic numbers twelve and five. Drawing on biblical and patristic sources, medieval number theory, and critical discussions of Pearl’s structuring principles, I argue that the displacement of the link-word ryȝt by the name of Iesus is not a mere instance of carelessness on the part of author or scribe but a considered and carefully constructed comment on the distinction between the mundane and celestial planes.