Chiastic structure in British Library Manuscript Cotton Nero A.x, Article 3
Miller, Deborah Lorene Church
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In this dissertation I argue that the four poems appearing in the Cotton Nero A.x Manuscript have a discernable sequence, structural integrity, and rhetorical purpose: Together, the four poems constitute a Text. Instead of being a randomly bound, miscellaneous anthology of works by, perhaps, the same anonymous fourteenth-century alliterative poet, the Manuscript reveals a coherent discourse, sequenced in an orderly way to achieve a particular rhetorical purpose. The underlying "logic" of this sequence is peculiarly Medieval and, paradoxically, postmodern because it is based on a visually and aurally apprehended rhetorical scheme that relies on apposition. The apposition is materially and rhetorically elaborated by means of balanced numeration of lines, a transitional "hub," and the placement of the poems and their illustrations in the volume itself. In this Manuscript, the sophisticated intertwining of themes, character types, and poetic styles operates within the rhetorical framework of a chiasmus. The failure to see or trust an integrating mechanism in the Cotton Nero A.x Manuscript can be accounted for in three ways. In Chapter One, I examine the historical neglect of those rhetorical figures classed as schemes, as opposed to tropes, particularly the scheme chiasmus. I conclude that chiasmus offers an excellent and frequently used means of organizing text, acting as visual and aural text marker that functions non- logically and non-hierarchically. In Chapter Two, I demonstrate how the Manuscript’s material and editorial histories have tended alternately to undermine or support the perception of the Manuscript as a Text. Chapter Three presents the critical fortunes of the four poems as authorless "orphans" and how the chiastic structure in Cotton Nero A.x, reveals the Text’s material and rhetorical boundaries and the poems’ collective "identity." The Prologue to the third poem Patience acts as the open center of a four-part chiastic structure, a structure that is echoed in thematic and stylistic inversions that appear throughout the four poems. The Manuscript’s reliance on numerological strategies, the "bookending" effect of its illustrations, and the schematic effect of some of these images evince the poems’ material boundaries.