Our project focuses on specific texts: short verse narratives. What does that mean?
Short. Scribes tended to treat short texts differently from longer ones, for a simple and obvious reason: unlike longer texts – such as romances – they cannot fill a whole manuscript but have to be combined with other texts. This leads to several revealing aspects of a manuscript that scholars can investigate now, such as:
- Which texts are combined by the scribes and in which order?
- What markers are used for the beginning and the ending of a text?
- If they have different known authors, (how) are they designated?
Whether it is important to distinguish between short and very short texts can be seen in one of our French examples.
Verse. Starting in the 13th century, vernacular authors began to compose texts in prose. Prose (as opposed to verse) was associated with chronicles and had therefore an aura of truthfulness and authenticity. However, some genres would still be composed in verse (and still are today). Manuscripts tend to combine prose with prose and verse with verse, so it makes sense to choose one thing or the other. For the project, we chose verse.
Narrative. Thirdly, we are looking at texts with narrative content, meaning texts that tell a story. This is an important distinction as there are many other kinds of texts: didactic ones (telling people how to behave), religious tracts, reflective or contemplative texts. In fact, the distinction between narrative and non-narrative is important in modern philology. It remains to see whether it was equally important to medieval scribes who were composing books.