Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage

Article excerpt

C. R. Dodwell, Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 28 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). xvii + 171 pp.; 99 plates. ISBN 0-521-66188-9. L45.00.

A reader who turns to this book looking to learn about the gestures actually employed by Anglo-Saxons will be disappointed. It provides, rather, a striking example of how treacherous the evidence in such matters can be. In 1974, C. R. Dodwell, together with Peter Clemoes, published a facsimile of the Old English illustrated Hexateuch (British Library, DAIS Cotton Claudius B. IV); and Dodwell subsequently set out to investigate the gestures represented in that manuscript, a study resulting in the present book (prepared for publication after the author's death by Timothy Graham). In a remarkable piece of learned detective work, Dodwell concluded that the gestural repertoire exhibited in the Hexateuch, as well as in some other manuscripts associated with Canterbury about the year 1000, reflects the artists' familiarity with a copy of the plays of Terence. This in turn had inherited its illustrations from an ancestral copy made, Dodwell argues, in the third century Al). Dodwell's second chapter maintains that the gestures pictured in that archetype and reproduced in its descendants showed 'a close knowledge of the classical stage and its traditions' (P. 33). Hence it comes about that it is the gestures of the Roman stage, not those of late Anglo-Saxon England, that Dodwell traces in the work of his Canterbury scribes.

Dodwell's prime example of an illustrated Terence is a Carolingian copy now in the Vatican Library. Supposing that something like this must have been known to the Canterbury artists, he devotes his longest chapter to the analysis of eighteen gestures to be found there. By dint of summarizing sometimes rather laboriously - the occasions in Terence's plays to which the miniatures refer, he establishes his conclusion: `the gestures used by the artist signify simply pointing and speech (the adlocutio), but also, more significantly, eavesdropping, refuting, insistence, forcefulness, restraint, belligerence, compliance, dissent, agreement, perplexity, love, apprehension, sadness, supplication, surprise and pondering' (p. …

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