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1 - Fellow Travellers with Saint Nicholas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2019

Delbert Russell
Affiliation:
University of Waterloo
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Summary

WITHIN the small corpus of bilingual and trilingual manuscripts compiled in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Oxford, BodL, Digby 86 remains one of the most puzzling for modern sensibilities. John Frankis's 1985 study outlines the manuscript's juxtaposition of high and low styles, prose and poetry, its subject matter being both devotional and scurrilous, lyrical and scientifically technical, along with the pragmatically useful (a calendar for religious use) and the speculative (prognostications, charms, dream interpretation). Calling Digby 86's contents ‘eccentric’ and ‘extravagantly heterogeneous’, Frankis deduces that it was addressed to an audience who sought both religious instruction and entertainment, in a society that included both secular clergy and the laity, and which was ‘somewhat naïve and even coarse in taste, rustic rather than urban’. He argues that ‘Digby 86, more than any other manuscript of the period, gives us an insight into what one might loosely call the upper middle class of thirteenth-century rural England’.

Frankis's broad overview of Digby 86 is persuasive, yet for me several questions persistently remain. How are we to read these widely different texts? What additional inferences can be made regarding the scribe/compiler's purpose in creating this book? What do the contents imply about the social and literary milieu of its audience? Are there distinctive linguistic features of scribal usage in French?

Roughly half of the contents in the 207 folios of Digby 86 are in French, but only two works explicitly mention the use of French. These are Les Miracles de seint Nicholas by Wace (art. 54; fols. 150ra–161ra, datable to the mid-twelfth century) and Le Romaunz de temtacioun de secle by Guischart de Beauliu (art. 63; fols. 182v–186v, datable to the end of the twelfth century).

Type
Chapter
Information
Interpreting MS Digby 86
A Trilingual Book from Thirteenth-Century Worcestershire
, pp. 10 - 24
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2019

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