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Performative Devotion and ductus in the Illustrations of Cambridge: Trinity College MS R.14.5

Thomas Meacham

The Cambridge: Trinity College MS R.14.5 contains fourteen semi-grisaille illustrations that represent scenes from Liber apologeticus de omni statu humane naturae, a morality play by Thomas Chaundler (c. 1460) that directly follows the illustrations in the manuscript. Each illustration has several lines of rubrication underneath that are not merely descriptive of the action in the scene that is being depicted, but are also performative for the potential readers/viewers of the illustrations.  Mary Carruthers, for instance, discusses the useful concept of rhetorical ductus or “directed movement” through a composition in relation to the monastic practice of meditative prayer. As Carruthers observes: “silent reading, the medium of meditation, is thought of as a performance by the reader (viewer or listener in other arts), actively and intentively memorizing, responding, recalling, and seeing and hearing inwardly.”  Upon initial viewing, it might seem that these illustrations merely signify the most important moments of the play or that they envision how the play might have been enacted in performance.  However, I argue that Chaundler and/or the scribe, John Farley, chose these particular evocative images to provide the reader/viewer with a ductus by which to experience the play differently from the text and/or the text in performance.  Specifically, the illustrations seem to heighten the eschatological and tropological (or moral) ramifications of death. These rubrications serve as “contemplative directions” for how to navigate the ductus on the “map of Man” through a performative reading.  As Pamela Sheingorn and Robert Clark argue in an article focusing on the presentation manuscripts and miniatures of Arnoul Gréban’s Mystère de la Passion, “the written word does not remain inert on the page; rather, the act of reading transforms it into enacted text, and it is this process that we term performative reading." The rubrications also occasionally refer readers directly to the play text, encouraging an interactive relationship between illustrations, interpretative rubrics, and dialogue of the play.

Session/Panel Title

Rhetoric of the Page in Latin Manuscripts of the Middle Ages

Session/Paper Number

45.3

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