The nature and experience of reading, for the common and uncommon reader across the centuries, is an enduring subject of interest for academics, journalists, fiction writers, poets, and those straddling these definitions. This book focuses on the period c. 1400-1600 and there is a lot of surviving evidence for popular reading in English during these two centuries. It examines four kinds of literature in four case studies, which represent an important constituent part of the whole body of popular texts available for study c. 1400-1600. Other studies might examine some of the many other forms of available evidence for popular reading in medieval and early modern England. There has been much excellent work on reading in recent years. The book focuses on religious texts, moral reading, practical texts, and fictional literature. The purpose of a case study is not to cover everything about a particular subject. Aside from the idea of 'covering everything' being intellectually flawed, each of the books examined here takes the investigation in a specific direction. A theme at the heart of the book is the evidence that the material item of manuscript and printed book can provide for reading practice and experience. Page layout including the interactions of different kinds or colours of script and of picture and writing are important visual aspects of the material evidence. These are often not separable from issues of literary form and voice (poetry, prose, gloss, instruction) and of language.

Elisabeth Salter

This chapter talks about the practices and experiences of religious reading. It begins with a case study of one fairly unusual prayer book to demonstrate some of the possibilities presented for the synchronic analysis of reading practice using evidence from one manuscript. This case study raises some issues about the languages of devotion, with particular reference to Latin and the vernacular, which leads into an examination of the significance of vernacularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in connection with popular literacy. A comparative case study, using a diachronic analysis, is useful to consider how Latin and English text was employed and understood across the ideological changes of the reformation period. The chapter ends with a series of case studies about reading experience across the intense reform period, roughly 1540-1560, and on up to 1590, with a particular focus on the connections between practice, experience and ideology.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600
Elisabeth Salter

This chapter is concerned with moral reading and focuses on a collection of short moral stories known as the Gesta Romanorum (Tales of the Romans), which were being copied, printed and circulated during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It discusses the aesthetics of the pages in Gesta with particular reference to Wynkyn de Worde's addition of illustrations in his printed version of c. 1510. The chapter considers the evidence for the circulation of Gesta stories and their qualifications as a popular form of literature in conjunction with their role as sermon exempla. It talks about how symbolism is made with particular reference to the use of inscription and how readers may have perceived this element in the narrative structure. A number of the stories seem to deal with issues that clearly have relevance to contemporary society whilst also persisting with the very Christian framework for their moralisations.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600
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Husbandry and carving
Elisabeth Salter

This chapter is concerned largely with detailed description and comparative analysis of specific manuscripts and early printed books. It begins from the contents of one manuscript housed in the National Library of Wales (NLW), Peniarth 394D, which contains two practical treatises, the Grosseteste and The Boke of Kervyng. The chapter focuses particularly on the Robert Grosseteste treatise and on John Fitzherbert's printed Book of Husbandry. It also focuses on the contents and literary styles of these treatises with particular reference to the Grosseteste and the Fitzherbert. This focus is to see how these aspects provide more evidence for how practical texts may have been used and read, and by whom. The chapter suggests that Fitzherbert's use of a proverbial style (employing Latin and English) signals this text's subscription to an intentionally popular form of literature.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600
Gawain in a Middle English miscellany
Elisabeth Salter

This chapter examines the nature of some popular fictional literature with the intention of understanding more about reading experience. It provides the set of surviving stories centred on one of the knights of King Arthur's round table: Gawain. The chapter describes the Gawain stories and assesses some general points concerning the various versions, their similarities and differences. It considers the matter of their popularity, and some important issues about the relationships between a popular story and its form, with specific reference to ideas of orality and literacy. The chapter presents a manuscript case study which addresses specific issues of how the evidence for reading practice and experience may be elucidated for one version of the story. The manuscript case study is based on The Carle of Carlisle which is found in a Middle English miscellany housed in the National Library of Wales.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600
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Elisabeth Salter

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book explores evidence for reading practice and experience during the period c. 1400-1600. It explores the issue of the juxtaposition of images with writing in the context of early printed texts. The book focuses on the ways that popular stories from Arthurian Literature may have been read and, for the detailed exploration of the manuscript, that means focusing on the story of Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle. The matter of the manuscript and the manuscript context are key issues in the analysis of reading fiction. The book focuses on the English translations of the moral stories known as Gesta Romanorum. The English translation of the treatise on husbandry, attributed to Robert Grosseteste, alongside other tracts written in English are examined in consideration of practical texts.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600
Elisabeth Salter

This chapter addresses critical issues which lead to the formation of a vocabulary for the discussion of reading practice and experience. It addresses the nature of the evidence including the approach to the formation of case studies and associated issues of how to employ empirical evidence in a non empiricist mode. The chapter also presents some key concepts discussed in this book. The book examines some of the ways that a manuscript itself provides extensive evidence for the reading process in terms of performance, intertextuality, and the connections between word and image. Investigation of moral reading takes as its main focus a collection of popular short stories known as the Gesta Romanorum. The book is guided by manuscript evidence for the organisation of a Middle English miscellany and the making of thematic connections between texts within it.

in Popular reading in English c. 1400–1600