The taught component of this MA has covered a variety of topics and a range of literature. The correlation of subject matter between the Old and Middle English strands has helped to highlight the connection between these two periods in literary history, despite the apparent lack of identity of the literature of the transition period in around the twelfth century. While examining the relationship between medieval religion and the language of satire I came across a chapter entitled “The Exeter Book Riddles and the Place of Sexual Idiom in Old English Literature” in Medieval Obscenities (ed. Mc Donald). In this chapter Glenn Davis states that”[e]arly critics, fuelled by a combination of their own distaste for these riddles’ salacious content and a belief in the homogeneously orthodox landscape of the late Anglo-Saxon church, worked hard to separate them from the rest of the Old English literary corpus” (39). Davis goes on to state that “many of those early prejudices persist” (39). However, these riddles make up about one third of the content of the Exeter Book, which also contains the largest extant collection of Old English poetry. The Book History component of the course led me to research the manuscripts such as the Exeter Book in order to better understand their function and modes of utility. A combination of several aspects of the course have led me to Exeter Book and its riddles as a research topic. I aim to explore the riddle tradition from antiquity to the Middle Ages and its connection to the Old English riddles, the connection between the Exeter Book riddles and the manuscript that contains them, and position of the riddles in the Old English canon.
Hulbert, James R. Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader. Maryland: Wildside, 2008. Print.
Mc Donald, Nicola. Medieval Obsenities. York: Boydell, 2006. Print.
Image source: http://english.siuc.edu/oldEngLit.html
Exeter Book. The Exeter Book contains a large selection of miscellaneous Anglo-Saxon poetry in manuscript form. It dates from about 960-980 and is thought to have been written by just one scribe (Blanchard and Schriber). Richard Gameson states that “its importance for the study of pre-Conquest vernacular literature can hardly be exaggerated” (135). Of the four codices of Anglo-Saxon poetry that exist, the Exeter Book is the only one in which there does not seem to be a uniformity in the poems selected for inclusion in the text (Lawrence 2). This in itself can reveal a lot about the scribes and their audience. Interestingly, the Exeter Book contains several hundred corrections which, according to Bernard J Muir, “reveal a great deal about how one particularly careful scribe worked, and perhaps more about the working habits of Anglo-Saxon scribes in general” ( 150). The fact that so many corrections were made suggests that the scribe was using a standardised language for writing. However, “[t]he standardised language in the codex is not by any means uniform”, and there are variations in spelling (Lawrence 5). While there is a lack in uniformity of spelling, the Exeter Book is a valuable source for examining the development of the English language in the tenth century. The selection of texts contained within the manuscript of the Exeter Book is also worth studying, as it contains a selection of ninety-seven riddles on various subjects juxtaposed with several examles of religious poetry.
The study of ancient manuscripts offers a great deal of information about the history of the book and the progression of texts from oral to written form. They also act as a valuable source of information on the cultural and social habits of their readers and writers. One such text is the
(Video source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtOsDeEl19w)
Blanchard, Laura B., and Carolyn Schriber. “The Exeter Book: Introduction.” ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. 1995-1999. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.
Gameson, Richard. “The Origin of the Exeter Book of Old English Poetry.” Anglo-Saxon England 25 (1996). Print.
Lawrence, David Herbert. The Phoenix. Manchester: University ND, 1968. Print.
Muir, Bernard James. “Editing the Exeter Book: AProgress Report.” Medieval Texts and Images: Studies of Manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Ed. Margaret M. Manion and Bernard James. Muir. Chur: Harwood Academic, 1991. Print.