I love this place (Oxford) more and more, I can’t believe we (husband and I) just dashed out of the house to purchase a gift for one of our son’s friends at Boswell’s (great toy department) and thought we’d go for a tiny wander around the block. Anyway our block shape changed a little and we decided to head to the end of Turl Street, go right along the High Street and back past the Radcliffe Camera, (I hope I’m painting an ideal image here) through the Bodleian Library quadrangle and out the other side to get our bikes, when my husband’s attention was drawn to a poster advertising ‘The Romance of the Middle Ages’. He, a former a student in Medieval History and me, nervous that I might miss out on something, jumped at the opportunity, for a free and impromptu date and rushed inside the small exhibition, to have a sticky beak.
I hope I’ve got the maths right…there were approximately eleven glass display cabinets containing an assortment of beautiful manuscripts, printed books and at least one, very assuming (I laughed out loud, my husband laughed out loud, I’m sure you’d also laugh out loud too) letter.
Now to a brief description of the printed books and luminous texts on exhibit and I promise to return to the hilarious letter later.
Directly opposite the ‘front counter’ where you can purchase postcards and badges – was my first port of call – and I’d recommend this as a decent place to start. For after my initial flash backs to seeing something similar in the British Library approximately 13 years ago, I started to rapidly appreciate the absolute craftsmanship, beauty of colour and handwriting skills that the producers of these tales possessed. I confess, I didn’t even attempt to read any of the ancient text, though was/am very grateful to the descriptions provided and positioned by each piece, by the curator. There was enough information to inform without too much to take in and overload my Friday, post-lunch, brain.
Each display cabinet you reach focuses on a different aspect, for you can read and learn a little about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or set your eyes upon a version of Richard Coeur de Lyon written in a mediaeval Norfolk dialect or even view some truly beautiful ivory panels. Keep an eye out for the display case housing a ‘delicate presentation scene prefacing the Middle English romance The Earl of Toulouse’ (reference, the back of my 50p postcard), it’s good, really good. My interpretation – it illustrates immense love, a man showers his sweetheart with a book – what a fabulous gift!
Worthwhile to mention, this is not just an exhibition of medieval texts, rather a mix of works through time with a common theme. For instance, you can gaze upon some of the original handwriting (maybe part of his first draft) of Philip Pullman’s The Scarecrow and the Servant. It’s on lined paper, written in blue ink and has real words crossed out on it. Now, getting to see that kind of stuff doesn’t happen every day, does it? Furthermore, you can laugh yourself silly, to a reply to John (someone) Esq – in relation to the submission of ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail’ to the film censorship board for a certificate. This is a typed response with recommended corrections, considered, presumably to improve the quality of the entertainment.
What a great and unexpected find and wonderful way to finish my week! Oh and thank you Elias Ashmole and Francis Douce