Broadcaster: BBC 4
Review by: Luna Ferraraccio
In this documentary, we are introduced to London’s British Library where a number of ancient and unique books, more than eleven million in fact, are kept. In this prestigious setting, the viewers a shown a book called the Luttrell Psalter which is described as a book of a kind, a milestone of the medieval literature. According to the programme, this piece of work is described as much as “an horrible piece of art” as it is ”marvellous”. An apparently compelling book for anyone who was lucky enough to read and observe it for the past 700 years with its grotesque, fascinating images and its 150 psalms in Latin. The Luttrell Psalter is a major part of English heritage and history.
Key information about the kind of manuscript and contents are given in the clip. The historical value of the book is set out by a professor of the university of London, who claimed these books are also mirrors of the life of their time. Indeed, many manuscripts were of religious content and were meant to guide the people in their everyday life to be good Christians. The programme stresses the importance of the Medieval period as developing the first steps of the English literature, where Geoffrey Chaucer is introduced as the ”Father of English Literature”, being the one to boldly reject the literary conventions and start to write in English. The viewers discover that various rhetorical techniques, various levels of readings and subtext already existed at that time and are not reserved for the most modern work.
The documentary does not only focus on the literary aspect of the medieval period, but gives the viewer key historical information to allow them to grasp the subtleties found in the texts. In fact, literature and history are subjects best taught in tandem. Combining the two exposes the different meanings of a book, particularly a medieval book, as a sign of wealth and pride, an educational and religious tool, and a way to defend oneself against the fear of death and Hell.
This documentary would be interesting to watch as an introduction to a Medieval Literature module for the language used is simple but the information is precise. It would be equally useful for further projects since many professors of various prestigious university make an appearance and so could be used as potential sources for complementary readings and research by the students.