Terence, Comedies (France, c.1475) Shelfmark: MS 117

Terence, Comedies (France, c.1475)

This manuscript of Terence’s Comedies is one of the few manuscripts not produced in England that we hold at St John’s College. It is one of two medieval Terence manuscripts at St John’s and one of several with Classics texts.

Its beautiful decorations are not just a feast for the eye, they also have the very practical function of guiding the reader through the texts. Throughout the volume red ink is used to mark headings and indications of speakers in the plays as well as running titles of the plays in the top margins. The beginning of the respective plays are marked with 6-line large champes with infilled vines and flowers, while the start of individual scenes are marked with smaller, three-line champes. The folio with the start of a new play is also decorated with borders of vines and flowers, demivinets of vines, leaves, buds, and fruits. There is also an occasional bird, like the marvellous peacock on folio 69v.

The manuscript was donated to the College by William Laud in 1610. That year marked the beginning of Laud’s long struggle to become President of his alma mater. At the time today’s Old Library was still new (only a good 12 years old) and the Canterbury Quad with its Laudian Library would not be built by Laud’s instigation for another 21 years.

  •     For a great introduction to the decorative features of St John’s College’s manuscripts, see our Collaborative Blog #1 here.
  •     For a blog post on our other manuscript of Terence’s Comedies, which was once owned by the famous playwright Ben Jonson, see our Librarian’s Pick #8 here.

For further images and descriptions of our manuscripts visit our Digital Library at https://stjohnscollegelibraryoxford.org/digital-library/