The Outer Limits: Border Characters In Medieval Manuscript Illuminations And Middle English Mystery Plays
Cincinnati: University Of Cincinnati, 1989
PhD dissertation at the University Of Cincinnati.
"Marginal figures of medieval manuscript pages and border characters in Middle English mystery plays are similar in that they provide a frame for their respective centers, which usually profess or emphasize Christianity. Border characters of manuscripts, drawn in minute detail in the margins, are usually found in overtly devotional texts such as Psalters and Books of Hours; the marginal figures border the text and/or central miniature visually and metaphorically. Border characters in mystery plays, that is to say, characters who are peripheral in terms of the central action of the biblical story, or who do not appear in Scripture or Apocrypha but are created by the dramatist, also frame in some way the central action. These border characters, then, do have a purpose beyond that of mere comic relief or mindless doodling: they enhance devotion and meditation on that which is central. Marginal figures in manuscripts fit into three main categories, according to art historian Lilian Randall: sacred themes, bestiary themes, and drolleries. Border figures of sacred themes point the reader back to the message of the central text or miniature by reflecting and/or reinforcing it. Bestiary themes figures are revelatory of God in that they are His creations or subcreations; they are also used symbolically to reinforce the message of the text. Marginal characters designated as drolleries either extend the message of the central text, contrast with it, or provide delectatio through mental and spiritual recreation. Border characters in mystery plays function similarly. Most, such as Lightbourne, Pikeharnes, Mrs. Noah, the detractors, the midwives, and the Jews, provide recreation through comedy while at the same time presenting a negative example. Thus they provide an effective contrast for the holy characters in the play, and emphasize right action through their wrong action. Christian devotion, then, is at the center of devotional manuscripts and mystery plays. The center is always God; His creatures border Him, but they must choose whether to direct their attention toward Him and serve Him, or turn away and serve themselves. The example which the border characters provide helps the viewer to make his/her own choice." - abstract
Last update December 6, 2021