“Make thereof a game”: The Interplay of Texts in the Findern Manuscript and its Late Medieval Textual Community
The Findern MS (CUL MS Ff.1.6) is a Middle English scrapbook compiled in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries by a series of gentry neighbors in the countryside of Derbyshire. The volume contains notable love literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century, as well as two-dozen anonymous lyrics that are unique to the manuscript. Examining these texts within their manuscript context reveals connections between them, which alter our reading of the individual texts and also allows an understanding of the texts as deliberately created sequences. In particular, the original lyrics written by the manuscript's gentry creators are often responses to love questions broached initially in the canonical works. A close look at the physical clues within the manuscript reveals that these playful textual interactions are part of an informal social "game of love." Using the canonical texts as starting points, the gentry create their own poetry and songs, forming multi-voiced debates on love topics that explore different points of view. Proficiency at these "game of love" activities allowed late medieval gentry to perform their gentility, a performance that had both economic and social benefits.