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Some sample reading goals: 

To find a paper topic or write a paper;

To have a comment for discussion;

To supplement ideas from lecture;

To understand a particular concept;

To memorize material for an exam;

To research for an assignment;

To enjoy the process (i.e., reading for pleasure!).

Seeing Textbook Reading in a New Light Students often come into college with negative associations surrounding textbook reading. It can be dry, dense, and draining; and in high school, sometimes we're left to our textbooks as a last resort for learning material.

A supportive resource : In college, textbooks can be a fantastic supportive resource. Some of your faculty may have authored their own for the specific course you're in!

Textbooks can provide:

A fresh voice through which to absorb material. Especially when it comes to challenging concepts, this can be a great asset in your quest for that "a-ha" moment.

The chance to “preview” lecture material, priming your mind for the big ideas you'll be exposed to in class.

The chance to review material, making sense of the finer points after class.

A resource that is accessible any time, whether it's while you are studying for an exam, writing a paper, or completing a homework assignment. 

Textbook reading is similar to and different from other kinds of reading . Some things to keep in mind as you experiment with its use:

Is it best to read the textbook before class or after?

Active reading is everything, apply the sq3r method., don’t forget to recite and review..

If you find yourself struggling through the readings for a course, you can ask the course instructor for guidance. Some ways to ask for help are: "How would you recommend I go about approaching the reading for this course?" or "Is there a way for me to check whether I am getting what I should be out of the readings?" 

Marking Text

Marking text – making marginal notes – helps with reading comprehension by keeping you focused and facilitating connections across readings. It also helps you find important information when reviewing for an exam or preparing to write an essay. The next time you’re reading, write notes in the margins as you go or, if you prefer, make notes on a separate sheet of paper. 

Your marginal notes will vary depending on the type of reading. Some possible areas of focus:

What themes do you see in the reading that relate to class discussions?

What themes do you see in the reading that you have seen in other readings?

What questions does the reading raise in your mind?

What does the reading make you want to research more?

Where do you see contradictions within the reading or in relation to other readings for the course?

Can you connect themes or events to your own experiences?

Your notes don’t have to be long. You can just write two or three words to jog your memory. For example, if you notice that a book has a theme relating to friendship, you can just write, “pp. 52-53 Theme: Friendship.” If you need to remind yourself of the details later in the semester, you can re-read that part of the text more closely. 

Accordion style

If you are looking for help with developing best practices and using strategies for some of the tips discussed above, come to an ARC workshop on reading!

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When referring to study at Oxford why is the word "read" used?

When reading about people who have studied at Oxford the word "read" is used instead of study. Example:

"He read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford"

Why when discussing study at Oxford (and maybe other universities) is the word "read" used?

ff524's user avatar

2 Answers 2

This is just a peculiarity of British English that read can have this particular meaning. The New Oxford American Dictionary says:

read 3. chiefly Brit. study (an academic subject) at a university: I'm reading English at Cambridge [ no obj. ]: he went to Manchester to read for a BA in Economics .

So, it's more about language itself than the official title of the diploma or an academic custom.

— Hey, wait, but where does this idea come up to associate “read” with “learn, understand” ? Surely there is a reason? And why is it English only?

Well, as it turns out, the meaning of “learn, understand, think, explain” is actually the original meaning of the Old English word from which we inherited read ! The Old English word is rædan (“explain”, amongst its meanings), from Proto-Germanic raedanan , from Proto-Indo-European root re(i)- (“to reason, count”).

Now, in many languages, the words derived from this root kept their original meaning. In German, raten means “to advise, counsel”; in Icelandic, ráða means “advise, decide, solve”.

Now, at some point something in Old English went sideways. Wiktionary states very clearly:

The development from “advise, interpret” to “interpret letters, read” is unique to English

Etymonline is more specific:

Transference to “understand the meaning of written symbols” is unique to Old English and (perhaps under English influence) Old Norse raða . Most languages use a word rooted in the idea of "gather up" as their word for "read" (cf. French lire , from Latin legere ).

Now, the original meaning of the word read is retained in some contexts in British English, but was lost in other forms of the English language, such as American English.

As a summary, the hard question is not really “why can read mean study ”, but instead: why did read come to mean “read”?

(source for the above: my memory, which is backed by the most excellent Etymonline )

F'x's user avatar

The respondents so far have missed a crucial point. When one ‘reads’ for a degree in the sandstone Unis in the UK, it is different to a normal course of study. Reading for a degree involves few lectures or tutorials, and consists mainly of being allotted texts by an academic supervisor, who then discusses what you have learned, and possibly sets essays for you to demonstrate logical argument and research. There’s no classroom study as such. It’s more about analytical thinking to earn your ‘Oxbridge’ degree.

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How to Study Well by Reading

Last Updated: May 2, 2023

This article was co-authored by Alexander Ruiz, M.Ed. . Alexander Ruiz is an Educational Consultant and the Educational Director of Link Educational Institute, a tutoring business based in Claremont, California that provides customizable educational plans, subject and test prep tutoring, and college application consulting. With over a decade and a half of experience in the education industry, Alexander coaches students to increase their self-awareness and emotional intelligence while achieving skills and the goal of achieving skills and higher education. He holds a BA in Psychology from Florida International University and an MA in Education from Georgia Southern University. This article has been viewed 169,468 times.

Can't concentrate when you read? Do you feel that the words go through your eyes and out your ears? Here is how to study well when reading.

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Learning to read is a journey: a study identifies where South African kids go off track

study reading meaning

Senior researcher at Research on Socio-Economic Policy, Stellenbosch University

study reading meaning

Professor at Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town

Disclosure statement

Gabrielle acknowledges funding for the research study from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant ES/T007583/1) and Allan and Gill Gray South Africa Philanthropy. The findings and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the funders.

Cally Ardington acknowledges funding for the research study from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant ES/T007583/1) and Allan and Gill Gray South Africa Philanthropy.

University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University provide funding as partners of The Conversation AFRICA.

View all partners

A boy in a school uniform uses his finger to track books in a book

Any parent who has watched a child learning to read knows that it is a journey. Various skills and processes must come together and build “brick by brick” before a child can read a text and answer questions about it.

A child needs at least two kinds of skills before they can comprehend what they’re reading. These are oral language skills (listening, speaking and knowing how spoken words sound) and decoding skills (knowledge of letter-sound relationships to turn a written word into a spoken word).

When decoding is a slow, laboured process this places demands on cognitive processes like working memory. By increasing speed and accuracy in reading, cognitive resources are freed and the child can begin to comprehend what they are reading.

Reading fluency and expanding vocabulary act as the bridge from decoding to comprehension. Weaknesses in any of these building blocks will limit a child’s ability to read for meaning.

There has been a great deal of concern in South Africa about how the country’s grade 4 pupils fared in the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS): 81% did not reach the study’s low international benchmark . This suggests they cannot read for meaning. The country placed last out of 57 participating countries.

The study’s findings are a global wake-up call to the effects of pandemic disruptions on children’s reading comprehension. In South Africa they are also a transparent metric of the education system’s overall performance. The study is conducted every five years and previous results have been useful for identifying learning improvements .

But PIRLS cannot detect where children are falling behind in their reading. It only assesses written comprehension, which is the final stage in a reading journey. Without knowing which building blocks are not being properly established along the way, the government cannot know where to intervene so that children do not fall further behind.

In a recent study , we’ve shed light on where the reading wheels fall off. We found that far too many children were entering school with weak oral language skills and were acquiring alphabetic knowledge and fluency far too slowly. This limited their reading comprehension and academic progress through school.

Based on our findings, we advocate strongly for systematic phonics instruction in early grades and a national remediation programme to address reading gaps in later primary school years.

Key findings

For the study, we compiled reading assessments for over 40,000 South African learners from six studies conducted between 2015 and 2021. While these data are not nationally representative, they are drawn from over 1,000 no-fee-charging schools across six of the country’s nine provinces. They tell us about reading outcomes in typical South African classrooms. In almost all these schools, children are instructed in their home language from grade 1 to grade 3 before a switch to English instruction happens in grade 4.

Children are struggling to master the most basic reading skills in their home language in the foundation phase (grades 1-3). By the end of grade 1, children should know all their letters, and be able to read words and short sentences. Pre-COVID, only 39%-48% of grade 1s assessed in these samples could recognise and sound out at least 26 letters at the end of the year.

Read more: South Africa's 10 year-olds are struggling to read -- it can be fixed

More than 55% of these grade 1s could not read a single word correctly from a grade-level text by the end of the school year. This worsened during the pandemic. Across two samples assessed at the end of grade 1 in 2021, the majority (62% in one study and 78% in the other) could not read one word correctly from a passage of text.

With serious backlogs in basic decoding skills, large percentages of children do not reach minimum grade 3 African language fluency benchmarks. These benchmarks signal a minimum reading speed and accuracy level that must be reached before children can start making sense of what they are reading.

Pre-COVID, just 11%-48% of samples tested at the end of grade 3 (or start of grade 4) were meeting minimum fluency benchmarks in the Nguni or Sesotho-Setswana language groups. By grade 6, large percentages (35%-46%) of study samples still did not reach the minimum fluency levels set for grade 3.

Reading success happens from the starting block

There are some positive findings.

We found strong evidence that reading success is possible when learners master the basics of reading in the first year or two of school. Learners who knew all their letters at the end of grade 1 were on track with their reading by the time they reached grade 4. Learners with very limited letter-sound knowledge at the end of grade 1 were three years behind, only reaching grade 4 reading fluency levels in grade 7.

Read more: South Africa's reading crisis: 5 steps to address children's literacy struggles

Learners who met minimum fluency benchmarks in their home languages by the end of grade 3 or 4 were in a much better position to comprehend what they were reading by the end of primary school than their peers who did not meet these benchmarks.

Addressing the gaps

Reading comprehension is one of the skills that South Africa needs most. It will be in short supply until basic reading skills are taught correctly.

Beyond grade 3, the teaching of basic reading skills in the home language is not included in the school curriculum. Children with weak foundational reading skills by the end of grade 3 will struggle to catch up.

What should be done about this? As the adage goes, “prevention is better than cure”. We need to understand what prevents basic reading skills from being acquired in grade 1 and 2 classrooms. A systemic programme to improve what teachers are taught at university is needed. In classrooms, diagnostic assessment of early grade reading skills can also help to detect where children are falling behind.

Remediation programmes could also help bridge some gaps in later grades. Additional time and support is especially needed to recover lost ground for cohorts that missed out on foundational grade 1-3 teaching time during the pandemic.

Lesang Sebaeng, Assistant Director: Research, Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation with the Department of Basic Education, co-authored this article and the research it is based on. The findings and conclusions here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect positions held by the department.

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Origin of study, synonym study for study, other words from study, words nearby study, words related to study, how to use study in a sentence.

Those studies are scheduled for completion over about the next year and a half.

The study tallied activity in more than a dozen different cryptocurrencies.

More recently, studies have reported on what the infection might do to the heart.

That’s according to a new study published in Science Advances.

The study , published Friday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found this association in both rural counties in Louisiana and highly populated communities in New York.

She completed a yoga teacher-training program and, in the spring of 2008, went on a retreat in Peru to study with shamans.

In fact, in a recent study of their users internationally, it was the lowest priority for most.

But in the case of black women, another study found no lack of interest.

Indeed, study after study affirms the benefits of involved fatherhood for women and children.

A recent U.S. study found men get a “daddy bonus” —employers seem to like men who have children and their salaries show it.

"There's just one thing I'd like to ask, if you don't mind," said Cynthia, coming suddenly out of a brown study .

His lordship retired shortly to his study , Hetton and Mr. Haggard betook themselves to the billiard-room.

She began the study of drawing at the age of thirty, and her first attempt in oils was made seven years later.

In practice we find a good deal of technical study comes into the college stage.

Its backbone should be the study of biology and its substance should be the threshing out of the burning questions of our day.

British Dictionary definitions for study

Word Origin for study

Other idioms and phrases with study.

see brown study.


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Definition of read

 (Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

intransitive verb

Definition of read  (Entry 2 of 3)

Definition of read  (Entry 3 of 3)

Example Sentences

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'read.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle English reden "to counsel, order, decide, guide, govern, realize, grasp the meaning of, interpret, explain, teach, look at and understand (written symbols), say aloud (something written)," going back to Old English rǣdan, (non-West Saxon) rēdan "to rule, direct, decide, deliberate, counsel, suppose, guess, expound the meaning of (as a riddle or dream), look at and understand (written symbols), say aloud (something written)," going back to Germanic *rēdan- (whence also Old Frisian rēda "to advise, protect, help, plan, decide," Old Saxon rādan "to consult, guess, take care of, counsel," Old High German rātan "to advise, deliberate, assist," Old Icelandic ráða "to advise, counsel, decide, determine, plan, rule, explain, interpret," Gothic garedan "to make provision for," fauragarairoþ "[s/he] predestined"), going back to an Indo-European verbal base *(H)reh 1 d h - "carry through successfully," whence also Sanskrit rādhati "will bring about," rādhnóti "(s/he) achieves, prepares, satisfies," Avestan rādat ̰ "will make right"; from a causative *(H)roh 1 d h -éi̯e-, Gothic rodjan "to speak, talk," Old Icelandic ræða "to speak, converse," Old Irish ráidid "(s/he) speaks, says, tells," imm-rádi "(s/he) thinks, reflects," Welsh adroddaf "(I) utter, say, relate," Old Church Slavic neraždǫ, neraditi "to have no care for, take no heed of" (also neroždǫ, neroditi ), radi "for the sake of," Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian ráditi "to work, do," Lithuanian ródyti "to show"

Note: Old English rǣdan was a Class VII strong verb, with evidence of reduplication (past tense reord ), though also conjugated as a weak verb; by the Middle English period evidence for strong conjugation is vestigial. The expected outcome of Anglian rēdan would be *reed, reflecting Middle English close long e ; the predominance of read, reflecting open long e, is perhaps due to interference from outcomes of Germanic *raidja- (see ready entry 1 ). This is essentially the conclusion of the Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, which assembles a number of presumed outcomes of *raidja- under a somewhat shadowy verb rede, the inflected forms of which can be difficult to distinguish from redd and rid (see redd entry 1 , rid ). — As is evident from the number of glosses, the Old and Middle English verbs covered a remarkably broad range of meanings. Those senses not having to do with the act of reading are now mostly represented by the spelling rede in Modern English (see rede ). Though the sense "interpret" is evident in Old Norse, adaptation of this verb to refer to visual processing of written language is peculiar to Old English (and hence to Modern English); to express this idea other Germanic languages, excepting Gothic, have adapted, either by inheritance or loan, outcomes of the verb *lesan- "to gather, select," presumably as a calque on Latin legere (see legend ). — A confusingly broad spectrum of meanings also characterizes the verb's Indo-European congeners, while the formal similarities are close. The gloss "carry through successfully" for *(H)reh 1 d h - ("erfolgreich durchführen") in Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben, 2. Ausgabe, applies best only to the Indo-Iranian forms.

from past participle of read entry 1

noun derivative of read entry 1

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a(1)

1586, in the meaning defined above

1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Phrases Containing read

Articles Related to read

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Led vs. Lead


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librocubicularist slang definition reading in bed

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A fancy word for someone who reads in bed

Dictionary Entries Near read

Cite this entry.

“Read.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/read. Accessed 9 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of read.

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Kids Definition of read  (Entry 2 of 2)

Biographical Definition

Biographical name (1), definition of read, biographical name (2).

Definition of Read  (Entry 2 of 2)

More from Merriam-Webster on read

Nglish: Translation of read for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of read for Arabic Speakers

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Cambridge Dictionary

Meaning of study in English

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study verb ( LEARN )

study verb ( EXAMINE )

Phrasal verb

Study noun ( examining ).

You can also find related words, phrases, and synonyms in the topics:

study noun ( LEARNING )

study | Intermediate English

Study | business english, examples of study, collocations with study.

These are words often used in combination with study .

Click on a collocation to see more examples of it.

Translations of study

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Here you can find activities to practise your reading skills. Reading will help you to improve your understanding of the language and build your vocabulary.

The self-study lessons in this section are written and organised by English level based on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). There are different types of texts and interactive exercises that practise the reading skills you need to do well in your studies, to get ahead at work and to communicate in English in your free time.

Take our free online English test to find out which level to choose. Select your level, from A1 English level (elementary) to C1 English level (advanced), and improve your reading skills at your own speed, whenever it's convenient for you.

Choose your level to practise your reading

A1 reading

Learn to read English with confidence

Our online English classes feature lots of useful learning materials and activities to help you develop your reading skills with confidence in a safe and inclusive learning environment.

Practise reading with your classmates in live group classes, get reading support from a personal tutor in one-to-one lessons or practise reading by yourself at your own speed with a self-study course.

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Reading and Writing for Understanding

The integration of reading and writing strategies helps students to make the leap from knowing to understanding.

children and teacher reading

Secondary school students can benefit enormously when teachers of all subjects integrate reading and writing strategies into their instruction, according to  Harvard Graduate School of Education Lecturer Vicki Jacobs . These strategies, typical of "reading and writing to learn" and "reading and writing across the curriculum," are problem-solving activities designed to help students move from simply knowing a fact to understanding a fact's significance. Helping students make that leap — from knowing to understanding — represents the very heart of the educational enterprise.

This summary is based on Jacobs' article, " Reading, Writing, and Understanding, " which appeared in the November 2002 edition of Educational Leadership .

Reading to Learn

Jacobs explains that students learn and practice beginning reading skills through about the third grade, building their knowledge about language and letter-sound relationships and developing fluency in their reading. Around fourth grade, students must begin to use these developing reading skills to learn — to make meaning, solve problems, and understanding something new. They need to comprehend what they read through a three-stage meaning-making process.

Stage One: Prereading

It's not uncommon for a struggling secondary reader to declare, "I read last night's homework, but I don't remember anything about it (let alone understand it)!" According to Jacobs, "How successfully students remember or understand the text depends, in part, on how explicitly teachers have prepared them to read it for clearly defined purposes."

During the prereading stage, teachers prepare students for their encounter with the text. They help students organize the background knowledge and experience they will use to solve the mystery of the text. To do so, they must understand the cultural and language-based contexts students bring to their reading, their previous successes or failures with the content, and general ability to read a particular kind of text. Based on this assessment, teachers can choose strategies that will serve as effective scaffolds between the students' "given" and the "new" of the text.

Asking such questions as, "What do I already know and what do I need to know before reading?" or "What do I think this passage will be about, given the headings, graphs, or pictures?" helps students anticipate the text, make personal connections with the text, and help to promote engagement and motivation. Brainstorming and graphic organizers also serve to strengthen students' vocabulary knowledge and study skills.

Stage Two: Guided Reading

Students move on to guided reading, during which they familiarize themselves with the surface meaning of the text and then probe it for deeper meaning. Effective guided-reading activities allow students to apply their background knowledge and experience to the "new." They provide students with means to revise predictions; search for tentative answers; gather, organize, analyze, and synthesize evidence; and begin to make assertions about their new understanding. Common guided-reading activities include response journals and collaborative work on open-ended problems. During guided reading, Jacobs recommends that teachers transform the factual questions that typically appear at the end of a chapter into questions that ask how or why the facts are important.

The ability to monitor one's own reading often distinguishes effective and struggling readers. Thus, guided-reading activities should provide students with the opportunity to reflect on the reading process itself — recording in a log how their background knowledge and experience influenced their understanding of text, identifying where they may have gotten lost during reading and why, and asking any questions they have about the text. As with prereading, guided-reading activities not only enhance comprehension but also promote vocabulary knowledge and study skills.

Stage Three: Postreading

During postreading, students test their understanding of the text by comparing it with that of their classmates. In doing so, they help one another revise and strengthen their arguments while reflecting and improving on their own.

Writing to Learn

Writing is often used as a means of evaluating students' understanding of a certain topic, but it is also a powerful tool for engaging students in the act of learning itself. Writing allows students to organize their thoughts and provides a means by which students can form and extend their thinking, thus deepening understanding. Like reading-to-learn, writing can be a meaning-making process.

Research suggests that the most effective way to improve students' writing is a process called inquiry. This process allows students to define and test what they would like to write before drafting. To help students prepare their arguments, teachers guide them through the three stages of writing-based inquiry:

Writing-to-learn activities can include freewriting (writing, without editing, what comes to mind), narrative writing (drawing on personal experience), response writing (writing thoughts on a specific issue); loop writing (writing on one idea from different perspectives) and dialogue writing (for example, with an author or a character.) "Not surprisingly," writes Jacobs, "writing-to learn activities are also known as 'writing-to-read' strategies — means by which students can engage with text in order to understand it."

Reading, writing, and understanding

The relationship among reading, writing, and understanding is clear. Students engaged in reading-to-learn will also be prepared to write well. In turn, students who are engaged in writing-to-learn will become more effective readers. Through both approaches, students will gain a better understanding of material and a greater ability to demonstrate that understanding.

Staff Development

Jacobs recommends that teachers who are considering whether to implement reading-to-learn and writing-to-learn strategies into their classroom first define their own instructional goals. If teachers decide that their goals for students' learning include "understanding," then they might ask themselves such questions as, "What strategies do I use to prepare my students to read a text?" or "How explicitly do I share with students the purpose of an assignment?" As Jacobs sees it, "Only after teachers have examined whether teaching for understanding suits their instructional goals and after they have defined their role in facilitating understanding can they consider how the principles and practices of reading-to-learn and writing-to-learn might support their instruction."

For those teachers who decide that teaching for understanding does indeed suit their instructional goals, the framework offered in Jacobs' article can help them skillfully integrate reading-to-learn and writing-to-learn strategies across their instruction.

When Reading Gets Harder

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Left-wing extremism is linked to toxic, psychopathic tendencies and narcissism, according to a new study  published to the peer-reviewed journal  Current Psychology.

“Based on existing research, we expected individuals with higher levels of left-wing authoritarianism to also report higher levels of narcissism,” the authors wrote.

As result of the new data, study authors Ann Krispenz and Alex Bertrams have coined a new term for such psychological behavior: the “dark-ego-vehicle principle.”

“According to this principle, individuals with dark personalities — such as high narcissistic and psychopathic traits — are attracted to certain forms of political and social activism which they can use as a vehicle to satisfy their own ego-focused needs instead of actually aiming at social justice and equality,” they told PsyPost .

Left wing extremism can be rooted in very unhealthy and selfish mental behavior, a new study reports.

“In particular, certain forms of activism might provide them with opportunities for positive self-presentation and displays of moral superiority, to gain social status, to dominate others, and to engage in social conflicts and aggression to satisfy their need for thrill seeking.”

The study on left-wing authoritarianism also showed that many times they do not practice what they so loudly preach.

Social justice is often used as a guise for these activists to behave unhinged, the research noted.

People protest at the planned site of a police training facility that activists have nicknamed "Cop City" in DeKalb County, Ga. on March 4, 2023.

“An individual high in LWA might declare anyone to be ‘old fashioned’ who is opposing their own ‘progressive values,’ strive to suppress free speech to regulate the expression of right-wing beliefs in educational institutions, and even endorse the use of violence to reach their own political goals,” the authors said.

Beyond using any means necessary, people of privileged backgrounds who are aligned with LWA often use their narcissism to make activism solely about themselves instead of achieving social equality for struggling groups.

“Minority groups should be made aware of the narcissistic ‘enemies’ from within their activist movement, as these individuals could hijack the cause thereby reducing the success of the activism in many ways,” the authors added.

Demonstrators vandalize a car as they protest the death of George Floyd, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington, D.C.

“As grandiose narcissists typically desire fame, distinction, elevated social status and high social importance, they can be assumed to strive for influential positions that involve social visibility and outreach as well as access to financial and other resources.”

The authors also made it clear that authoritarianism exists on both sides of the political spectrum and that “there is a wide range of literature and research in the field of right-wing authoritarianism.

“However, research on authoritarianism observed in individuals who are supportive of left-wing political ideologies are still rare.”

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These 12 symptoms may define long COVID, new study finds

For the millions who have been struggling with a baffling illness in the last few years, a recent study on long COVID could finally be a step toward treatment. At the same time, some experts caution that this new sketch of possible symptoms should not be mistaken for a tool that patients can use to diagnose themselves.

More than 100 million people in the U.S. have been sick with COVID, according to a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau . Of those who were sick, an estimated 15 percent developed prolonged symptoms linked to long COVID, often disrupting their lives and perplexing health care providers.

For this study published in JAMA , a team at Mass General Brigham analyzed self-reported survey responses from nearly 9,800 patients, who described 37 different symptoms of long COVID six months or more after infection. Taking those symptoms, researchers then developed a scoring system. If a person’s composite symptom score reached a threshold, they were considered “positive” for long COVID (or postacute sequelae of Sars-COV-2 infection), the authors said .

long covid symptoms

Chart by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

According to that research, the hallmarks of long COVID include:

Then, researchers analyzed reported symptoms alongside each patient’s history of infection and vaccination, eventually sorting patients into four different clusters of symptoms and severity. For individuals who had been infected with COVID more than once and had not received their full primary series of vaccine doses, the authors found evidence of worse outcomes.

READ MORE: ‘ Why aren’t you taking care of us?’ Why long COVID patients struggle for solutions

“We see this as a critical first step to coming up with a common language, a unified strategy for identifying people who have long COVID,” said Dr. Andrea Foulkes, principal investigator and lead author for the study.

Throughout the pandemic, the lack of evidence-based criteria has put both health care providers and patients at a disadvantage. Physicians and researchers alike have chased what felt like a moving target of evolving variants and illness as they tried to better understand and mitigate the virus and its effects. Patients with long COVID often felt as if they were adrift in the health care system, forced to advocate for themselves while teaching clinicians about the realities of their disease.

Since its release, this new research has attracted criticism. Some COVID experts have expressed concern that the public may confuse these 12 symptoms as criteria for diagnosing a person with long COVID. But this study’s findings are “most useful as a clinical research tool,” said Dr. Tanayott Thaweethai, one of the study’s co-authors. In other words, more research is needed.

In 2021, the National Institutes of Health established the $1 billion RECOVER initiative to better understand long COVID. Those funds erected more than 80 clinic sites in 33 states and have enrolled more than 13,000 adult patients. As part of the initiative, researchers asked patients a series of questions, conducted tests and took blood samples so they could examine how long COVID manifests, who is at risk for severe infection and long-standing effects, and why.

But those patients did not necessarily receive treatment. Many now describe themselves as guinea pigs for medical researchers, and have felt disappointed, if not betrayed, that long-held promises have not yet manifested into relief of their symptoms or the return of normal life.

Critics of the new study have also argued the symptom ranking system appears to prioritize long COVID effects such as loss of taste and smell over more life-altering outcomes, such as fatigue and dizziness that can set in after walking a few steps or sitting up.

“Symptoms with higher scores are not necessarily more prevalent or more severe than those with lower scores,” said Thaweethai, a biostatistician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in a written statement.

READ MORE: Should I get the new COVID-19 booster? Here’s what you need to know

For long COVID patients like Peter Paz, 44, of Wells, Maine, this study offers a chance for him to focus more on his health and less on educating “every single new doctor” he encounters about his symptoms, how they link to long COVID or even what long COVID is.

“There’s nothing standardized for us. There are people out there who have long COVID and don’t even know it,” he said.

Since Paz became sick with COVID in February 2020, he has endured ailments such as an aching tongue and extreme fatigue without much clarity – “an absolute struggle.” If, that summer, he had been able to point to a list of symptoms when talking to his health care providers, Paz said, “It would have changed my life.”

Since the U.S. lifted its public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, Paz said he felt like long COVID patients like himself were “being left behind.” But now, this list of symptoms – however preliminary – gives him hope.

Laura Santhanam is the Health Reporter and Coordinating Producer for Polling for the PBS NewsHour, where she has also worked as the Data Producer. Follow @LauraSanthanam

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Doctor with an X-ray.

Lung cancer pill cuts risk of death by half, says ‘thrilling’ study

Taking the drug osimertinib once a day after surgery reduces chance of patients dying by 51%, trials show

A pill taken once a day cuts the risk of dying from lung cancer by half, according to “thrilling” and “unprecedented” results from a decade-long global study.

Taking the drug osimertinib after surgery dramatically reduced the risk of patients dying by 51%, results presented at the world’s largest cancer conference showed.

Lung cancer is the world’s leading cause of cancer death, accounting for about 1.8 million deaths a year. The results of the late-stage study, led by Yale University, were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (Asco) annual meeting in Chicago.

“Thirty years ago, there was nothing we could do for these patients,” said Dr Roy Herbst, the deputy director of Yale Cancer Center and lead author of the study. “Now we have this potent drug.

“Fifty per cent is a big deal in any disease, but certainly in a disease like lung cancer, which has typically been very resistant to therapies.”

The Adaura trial involved patients aged between 30 and 86 in 26 countries and looked at whether the pill could help non-small cell lung cancer patients, the most common form of the disease.

Everyone in the trial had a mutation of the EGFR gene, which is found in about a quarter of global lung cancer cases, and accounts for as many as 40% of cases in Asia. An EGFR mutation is more common in women than men, and in people who have never smoked or have been light smokers.

Speaking in Chicago, Herbst said the “thrilling” results added huge weight to earlier findings from the same trial that showed the pill also halves the risk of a recurrence of the disease.

Herbst, the assistant dean for translational research at Yale School of Medicine, said the pill was proven to be “practice-changing” and should become the “standard of care” for the quarter of lung cancer patients worldwide with the EGFR mutation.

Some patients in the UK, US and other countries are already able to access the drug, he said, but more should benefit.

Not everyone diagnosed with lung cancer is tested for the EGFR mutation, which needs to change, Herbst said, given the study’s findings. “This further reinforces the need to identify these patients with available biomarkers at the time of diagnosis and before treatment begins.”

Treatment after surgery with osimertinib, also known as Tagrisso and made by AstraZeneca, “significantly lowered” the risk of death in lung cancer patients, the trial results reported. “Adjuvant osimertinib demonstrated an unprecedented, highly statistically significant and clinically meaningful overall survival benefit in patients,” the report said.

After five years, 88% of patients who took the daily pill after the removal of their tumour were still alive, compared with 78% of patients treated with a placebo. Overall, there was a 51% lower risk of death for those who received osimertinib compared with those who received placebo.

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The survival benefit “was observed consistently” in an analysis across all study subgroups, including those with stage one, stage two and stage three lung cancer. Chemotherapy had been given to 60% of those in the study, and the survival benefit of osimertinib was seen regardless of whether prior chemotherapy was received.

“It is hard to convey how important this finding is and how long it’s taken to get here,” said Dr Nathan Pennell, an Asco expert who was not involved with the study. “This shows an unequivocal, highly significant improvement in survival.”

About two-thirds of the 682 patients in the trial were women. About two-thirds of patients also had no history of smoking, which suggested the pill works for smokers and non-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer.

Angela Terry, the chair of EGFR Positive UK, a lung cancer charity, said the findings were “very exciting” and “hugely significant”.

“A five-year overall survival rate of 88% is incredibly positive news,” she said. “Having access to a drug whose efficacy is proven and whose side-effects are tolerable means patients can be confident of and able to enjoy a good quality of life for longer.”

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Entertainments from a medieval minstrel’s repertoire book.

James Wade, Entertainments from a Medieval Minstrel’s Repertoire Book, The Review of English Studies , 2023;, hgad053, https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgad053

National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 19.3.1 (the Heege Manuscript) is a large, late-fifteenth-century English miscellany manuscript from the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Its first booklet, which existed independently of the manuscript’s other eight booklets throughout much or all of its medieval life, contains three texts: the tail-rhyme burlesque romance The Hunting of the Hare , a mock sermon in prose, and the alliterative nonsense verse The Battle of Brackonwet . This essay proposes that Richard Heege, the booklet’s scribe, copied these texts from the repertoire of a local entertainer, be that a gifted amateur or, very plausibly, a travelling minstrel working a regular beat. In this light, the booklet’s comic, crude, and sometimes frivolous contents take on new significance in the history of English literature, as they provide close evidence for what made up the entertainments of English oral culture—or minstrelsy—at the end of the Middle Ages.

More than 30 years have passed since the publication of Andrew Taylor’s ‘The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript’, and in that time we have seen no fresh claims to the discovery or identification of a single medieval English manuscript with plausible connections to an actual medieval minstrel. 1 It is a serious lacuna, a major category of lost literature. 2 Records survive, including accounts of payments issued, that reference real-life medieval minstrels, harpours, gestours , and rimours , 3 yet aside from first names, instruments played, and very occasionally places of association, little evidence of their lives or work exists in written record. 4 Literary texts are peppered with descriptions of minstrelsy and performing minstrel characters, yet no single text survives that we can confidently tether to a medieval minstrel, as composer, owner, or performer. Many medieval works contain ‘oral’ or ‘minstrel’ tags, which address or otherwise refer to a live audience, yet all supposed ‘oral’ literature survives in manuscripts that have no demonstrable, obvious, or sometimes even plausible connections to authentic oral culture. 5 Perhaps, some might find this state of affairs not too surprising. After all, oral literature, by definition, does not depend on a material medium for its existence or transmission. What we can surmise about medieval oral culture is that it was founded in community and survived through memory, either by convention or necessity, or both: if performers were usually unlearned peasants, possibly even illiterate, and they made their bread in the markets of live performance, there might have been little point investing in the materials of the book. Indeed, the rise of the vernacular literary manuscript across the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries may well have been seen as competition. What place is there for the storyteller when prosthetic technologies of the archive encroach on their terrain? How can a jongleur keep the cup passing round when private houses could have their own minstrels with nothing more than a book and a single literate individual? 6 Walter Benjamin’s periodized narrative of the decline of the storyteller, of the traveller’s tall tales eclipsed by the informatics of the novel, of communal entertainment giving way to the solitude of private reading, might be said to find compressed and localized expression in the literary milieu of later medieval England. 7 Still, the lack of any survival of an authentic minstrel text is surprising, and it leaves the student of medieval popular literature on shaky ground, reliant on post-medieval minstrel manuscripts, or depictions in fiction, or speculations based on texts with supposed ‘oral’ markers. 8 In this context, any evidence that connects medieval textual witnesses to authentic minstrelsy would be illuminating, both in terms of oral communities and storytelling culture, and in terms of identifying the actual entertainments minstrels performed.

This essay does not claim to identify a manuscript written by a medieval minstrel. It does, however, make the case that a booklet in a fifteenth-century manuscript (complied c .1480) was copied directly from a minstrel’s repertoire, or from the repertoire of a local performer adopting a minstrel’s role, either from live performance or, more likely, from a now-lost book of performance pieces. The manuscript is National Library of Scotland, Advocates’ MS 19.3.1 (the Heege Manuscript), and it has been extensively studied, most notably by Phillipa Hardman. 9 The booklet in question, which is both a single quire and a separate unit of codicological production, is now the first in the manuscript, though its order may be incidental to its medieval context, since, as Hardman has shown, the nine booklets that now make up the manuscript would likely have been unbound throughout most or all of their medieval lives, and existed as a medieval ‘library in parvo ’. The booklets were bound into their current single-volume form only after their re-discovery in the early nineteenth century by Robert Southey, who got them into the hands of Sir Walter Scott, who in turn lobbied for their acquisition by his fellow Advocates. The first booklet contains three texts: a tail-rhyme burlesque romance, now called The Hunting of the Hare , a mock sermon in prose, and The Battle of Brackonwet , a nonsense verse in alliterative long-lines. The scribe of these texts is one Richard Heege, whose surname no doubt derives from the village of Heage in Derbyshire, where (or near where) the manuscript originated. In what follows I set out the case for Richard Heege’s copying of this booklet from the texts of a local minstrel or amateur performer, most likely from the minstrel’s own repertoire book. I then reflect on what this might suggest to us about minstrelsy and popular entertainment in England at the end of the Middle Ages.

The ‘library in parvo ’ that is now MS Advocates’ 19.3.1 a highly miscellaneous collection of popular and, in some cases, lowbrow writings. Among its 51 items you will find nothing from Chaucer or Gower or Hoccleve, or any author whose name might have carried some literary cachet in the fifteenth century. There is some Lydgate, but its presentation suggests that his authorship was either unknown or deemed irrelevant. 10 Looking into the manuscript you are also unlikely to find anything you might consider obviously or explicitly philosophical, or continental, or freighting any prestige from Greco-Roman antiquity. Nor will you find anything that would tie these texts into wider European literary traditions: nothing from the Matter of Britain; nothing from the Matter of France; nothing from the Matter of Rome or Troy. In short, it is not a book of high art, and it does not seem to have been made for the cultivation of sophisticated or polite tastes.

In this sense it could not be more different from the manuscript with which it is most often compared: the Findern Anthology (Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.1.6). 11 Comparisons between these books have been pursued on the grounds of their geographic proximity (both were provincial productions from the north-east Midlands), on the grounds of their chronological connection (both were made in the second half of the fifteenth century), on the grounds of their codicological congruities (both are large booklet-based assemblages of various texts), and on the grounds of their presumed gentry status (both were originally owned by families at or near the bottom of the aristocratic pile). No doubt the Findern Anthology was a large collaborative project, containing the writings of at least 40 different hands, and, potentially, original compositions from some of them, but most of the manuscript’s booklets are anchored by texts from recognized literary figures, including Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, Hoccleve, and Richard Roos. Of its 62 literary items, nearly all are lyrics or courtly love poems, and its one romance, Sir Degrevant , is a markedly genteel expression of the genre, participating with the lyrics and the other courtly love poems in giving the sense that this is a book of and for the world of fin amore , of polite society, and of fashionable literature. 12

In the Advocates’ manuscript, by contrast, we get a different cast of romances, such as the profoundly savage Sir Gowther (item 4; fols. 11 r–27 v); we get gruesome afterlife tales, such as Tundale (item 35; fols. 98 r–157 v), and St Gregory’s Trental (item 50; fols. 213 r–216 r); we get crudely comic tales like The Hunting of the Hare (item 1; fols. 1 r–7 r); we get nonsense verses that dwell in largely lowbrow registers; we get instructional texts on the basics of hygiene and manners, like Stans puer ad mensam (item 5; fols. 28 r–29 v); and we get proverbs, devotional texts, and writings of religious instruction, like The Lay Folks’ Mass Book (item 9; fols. 57 r–58 v). Not wishing to discount the miscellaneous nature of the collection, and the potential for individual texts to be used in multiple and various ways, the whole book, taken together, has a strong flavour of the functional and the popular.

There is a consistency, then, in the cultural milieu and the broad tenor of the whole booklet-library, just as there appears to be a congruity in its textual archaeology. Aside from the first booklet, the contents of all the other booklets appear to have derived from, and no doubt participated in, informal networks of manuscript circulation and exemplar reproduction. The other eight booklets contain 35 ‘major’ texts (i.e., excluding short charms, prayers, and medical recipes usually occupying ‘filler’ positions in the manuscript). Of these major texts, 32 survive in at least one other manuscript from the Middle Ages, and many of them in multiple copies, such as the 10 witnesses of Sir Isumbras (item 22; fols. 68 r–84 r), or the 19 witnesses of the lyric ‘Ihesu þi swetnes who myght hit se’ (item 37; fols. 170 v–173 r). Such a culture of textual exchange and vernacular (often amateur) book compilation undoubtedly led to the many so-called household books, vernacular anthologies, miscellanies, and commonplace books that survive from the fifteenth century. Scholarship on the Heege Manuscript nearly always situates it in the context of these textual communities and conventions, with attention to exemplar circulation, educational and entertainment aims, and the aspirational ambitions of its first gentry owners, the Sherbrooke family. 13 Richard Heege, the scribe of most items across the booklets, was likely the family’s tutor as well as the household cleric, and it seems clear that he created his booklet-library by accumulating texts copied out from existing manuscripts or other booklets.

The manuscript’s first booklet, however, is different. The three texts it contains betray no evidence of links with exemplar networks, and indeed, on the contrary, they exhibit many features that suggest origins in live performance and minstrel traditions. All three texts survive only in this booklet. All three are in some ways sui generis, or at least generically irregular (burlesque romance, mock-sermon, nonsense pastoral). All three are composed in forms suited to and conventionally aligned with live performance (tail-rhyme, prose sermon, feast meta-comedy). All three are short enough to be suitable for interludes or after-dinner entertainment. All three contain ‘minstrel tags’ and otherwise directly address and anticipate a live and interactive audience. All three are entertaining and light-heartedly humorous. All three are locally orientated, using local place-names, alluding to local traditions, or situating narratives in the context of present or neighbouring villages. And finally, all three (gently) mock peasants and kings alike, and show a playful awareness of possible mixed audiences, or the possibility of audiences shifting depending on location, from the village fair to the baronial hall.

At the head of the booklet’s first item, Heege inscribes the title—‘Þe Hunttyng o‹f› þe Hare’—presumably in order to establish a horizon of expectations that will soon be subverted. 14 There is a hare, but it makes only a brief appearance in the story, and the point is that there is really not much hunting going on. Instead, in just under 300 lines, we get a mock or burlesque romance, with jokes, punchlines, or absurd high jinks in just about every one of its six-line tail-rhyme stanzas. Walter Scott, who discusses The Hunting of the Hare on several occasions, described it as a parody of the serious romance, being ‘studiously filled with grotesque, absurd, and extravagant characters’. 15

Similar romances are The Tournament of Tottenham and the Feast of Tottenham . 16 In the Tournament , the refined, highly ritualized, and extremely expensive courtly pursuit of the tournament is hammed up by the bumpkin peasants; in the Feast , of course, it is the refined, ritualized, and expensive performance of the courtly feast that is absurdly acted out by the peasants, and in the Advocates’ text it is the refined, ritualized, and expensive courtly hunt that is turned on its head by the blundering common folk. 17 The story is as simple as that: a bunch of peasants try to course a hare but end up in a massive tangled brawl with each other and with their mongrel dogs, and in the end the wives show up to cart off the dead and wounded in wheelbarrows. The violence here is pointless and the comedy is crude—jokes about incontinence, for instance 18 —so in addition to the colophon displacing blame by implying that it might be all made up, the poem’s opening lines refuse to name or give the location of the village it describes, for fear of it someday getting the performer into trouble: A letyll tale y wyll yow tell, Y tro[w]e hit wyll lyke yow well, Þerat ye schall have gud game. Bot were it was y dare not say, For [appyly] anodur day, Hit myght turne me to blame.     (ll. 1–6; fol. 1 r).

Who knows, the village full of idiotic peasants might be nearby, or indeed it could be seen as humorously targeting the audience: the unpindownable locale allows for its performance in multiple villages while maintaining the comic implication that the present audience’s village is the one being lampooned. In either case, the poem’s narrator implies local knowledge shared with his audience, which might—‘appyly’, meaning ‘possibly’ or even ‘unfortunately’—land him in hot water down the road on what was likely a relatively small and circular beat. 19 Unlike a play such as Mankind , in which the place-names tether it to specific local geographies of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk, this is a poem with performance context flexibility written into it. 20 This is a poem adaptable to locale—a poem made for taking on the road.

Here we have, too, an example of a poem about peasants written for peasants, or at least one that anticipates audiences of mixed or varied estates—unless of course we see the entire performance-centred set-up of the poem as a construct, as faux folklore. Of course, it is entirely understandable that minstrels would develop performance materials that would chime differently with different audiences, and that would simultaneously resonate broadly with audiences that span the highborn/lowborn, learned/lewd spectra. Ample evidence survives for occasions in the fifteenth century when minstrels would have performed in front of mixed-estate audiences. Dame Alice de Bryene’s household accounts from 1412–1413, for instance, tell us that the Suffolk widow paid for minstrels on at least six occasions that year, all connected to visits by both distinguished guests and her labourers and tenants. On 29 April 1413 she hired a minstrel to entertain her harvest reeve, 10 ploughmen, and other labourers. On New Years’ Day 1413 she put on a massive spread of food and minstrelsy for over 300 tenants and other locals. When her half-brother, Sir Richard Waldegrave, came to visit 10 days later, he sent a minstrel in advance. 21 Such is the socio-cultural context of the provincial gentry household: the calendar year punctuated with festal and even saturnalian occasions in which labourers rub shoulders with landlords, facilitated by the comic estate-based ribaldry of entertainments such as The Hunting of the Hare .

In The Hunting of the Hare we also have an evocation of, and comic revelling in, the anonymized local setting. The peasants who end up in this brawl live in a nondescript rural village and are all named with the hypocoristic names often given to caricatured peasants: Wyll of the Gappe, Davé of the Dale, Hob Andrew, Sym, and so on. 22 One of the more absurd characters is the bumpkin Jac Wade. Consider the following lines, which give something of the flavour of the tale: Þe hare þoght che wold owt wyn, & hit Jac Wade apon þe schyn, Þat he fell apon þe backe. ‘Owt, owt!’, quod Jac, and ‘Alas, Þat euer þis batell begonon was! Þis is a soré note!’ Jac Wade was neuer so ferd As when þe hare trade on his berd, Lest sche wold have pult owt his þrowt.    (ll. 142–50; fols. 4 r–v)

The plebeian diminutive nicknames help place these characters outside of official or elevated discourse, and they certainly live up to their lowbrow assignations, but the names also help to anonymize them. These could be people from just about any medieval English village, and so the locational or geographic joke works regardless of what town the performer happens to be in. The text contains further minstrel tags in all the places you would expect to find them, such as the transition between the two fits (where a break would have been presumably taken), and including a reminder at the end that it would be good to offer the performer a cup—presumably full of ale, though a cup passed round to collect coin is a possibility too.

The passing of cups, for coin and for ale, is encouraged in the booklet’s next item (item 2; fols. 7 r–10 r), which is one of the few surviving examples of a burlesque or mock sermon in Middle English. 23 Over 30 sermons joyeux survive in French, but in English we have little else beyond the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and the Pardoner’s Tale , both of which might be said to engage with similar conventions, though they do so only obliquely, and without suggesting any awareness of an existing tradition, let alone one in English. The Tudor play Mankind , along with Heywood’s The Pardoner and the Friar , include satire of sermonizing language and style, which gesture knowingly toward the tradition of the sermons joyeux , but in neither are whole parodic sermons embedded. 24 These plays seem to fit with the flourishing of the genre in more respectable circles in the sixteenth century, when the mock sermon became more popular in the schools and inns of court. 25 That Chaucer can take up the genre implies some currency in Middle English, but the fact that he gives it to his two most fallible authors equally suggests that the genre is still, in the Middle Ages, just on the wrong side of playful subversion—the kind of entertainment best suited to the less-easily indictable ephemerality of live performance.

The Heege Manuscript sermon covers six pages of prose, and across those pages there are no fewer than 12 instances of direct address to, or invocation of, a live audience. At times those ‘oral tags’ are conventional addresses (‘sirs’, ‘syrrus’), at times comically derogatory (‘my leve cursyd creatures’, ‘cursed catyves’), at times mimetic of sermonizing invocations (‘y pray you everychone […] sey a pater noster and an ave’), and at times reflective of the assumed performance context of drunken revelry (‘Drynke þu to me, and y to þe’). 26 As with The Hunting of the Hare , the performer uses a generic convention to orientate the narrative locally—‘and all þe sottes of þis town wer don in a dungeon […]’—with the possibility of ‘sottes’ meaning ‘drunkards’ as well as ‘fools’ implying that the round-up would include those present in the audience. Again the text offers, with the indefinite ‘a’ of ‘a dungeon’, the prospect that it could be performed in multiple villages and still maintain the humorous implication that the present audience of ‘sottes’ is the one being lampooned. This is a comic jab made to travel.

As with The Hunting of the Hare , too, the performer ends the piece by announcing himself as someone who would benefit from the charity of the cup, and with the epic bouts of eating and drinking it describes, it evokes a performance setting of a saturnalian feast at, say, a provincial manorial hall, or an epic binge-session at an alehouse or tavern, of the kind imagined in the Pardoner’s Tale or passus V of Piers Plowman . Its authorities are peasants with the sort of hypocoristic nicknames found in The Hunting of the Hare : a caricaturized Jack Straw, Jack a Throme, and Jon Belly-Burst. Here is a flavour of its argument:

Drynke þu to me, and y to þe, and halde þe coppe in a-re. […] yf þu have a grete blacke bolle in þi honde, and hit be full of gud ale, and þu leyve any þyng þerin, þu puttes þi sowle into grette pyne. And þerto acordes too worþi prechers, Jacke a Throme and Jon Brest-Bale; þese men seyd in þe bibull þat an ill drynker is unpossibull hevone for to wynne; for God luffus nodur hors nor mare, but meré men þat in þe cuppe con stare. (fol. 10r)

In keeping with the tone of The Hunting of the Hare , once again, this sermon does not seem like a simple tool for the gentry to laugh at the peasantry. Rather, the saturnalian environment it evokes, and no doubt engenders, seems appropriate for audiences of mixed or varied estates. While conventional English sermons often embed snippets of verse to catch the ear and encourage both association and memorization, this sermon embeds fragments of drinking songs—‘Drynke þu to me, and y to þe, and halde þe coppe in a-re’, or ‘for God luffus nodur hors nor mare, but meré men þat in þe cuppe con stare’. They are a witness to a received understanding of linguistic texture and style in the Middle English sermon, and the immediate effect, presumably, is to encourage more rapid imbibing and therefore more jolly conviviality, even amongst potentially disparate estates. If death is a great leveller of rank, so too is intoxication.

The sermon holds up aristocrats for ridicule as much, or more, than the peasants. Consider the following exemplum:

Syrs, y rede also þat þer was wonus a king, and he made a gret fest, and he had .iij. kyngus at his feyst, and þese .iij. kyngus ete but of wone gruell dysche, and þei ete so mykull þat þer balys brast, and owt of þer balys come .iiij. and xx.te oxon playing at þe sword and bokelar, and þer wer laft no moo on lyve but .iij. red heyrynges. And þese .iij. reyd heryngus bled .ix. days and .ix. nyghttus, as it ben þe cawkons of horse-schone. (fol. 9r)

There is little sense to be made here, though perhaps we could see it as an absurd rendition of the ‘marvel at a feast’ motif found commonly in romance. 27 Possibly, through the fighting of the 24 oxen-knights, the three kings are punished for their gluttony by somehow being transformed into the red herrings, the very ‘gruell dysche’ on which they glutted until their bellies burst. All we can do is speculate and differ, and no doubt trying to make too much sense of it is beside the point. What we have here is a witness of fantasy and whimsy drawing on the conventions of romance, chivalric combat, and the enigmas of the heterodox supernatural. Obviously the sermon is not a romance, and it is not in a verse form we readily associate with ‘entertaining’ live performances, like tail-rhyme, though obviously, too, sermons were designed for performance before an audience, and the best of them were meant to be genuinely engaging. We know as well, from the vices in Mankind , that there is fun to be had by mocking a sermon through parodying its style, 28 and there is evidence of a vogue for amateur mock sermons in the first half of the sixteenth century, of the kind a young Sir Thomas More was said to excel at. 29 Later in the century, the fine improvisations of Falstaff and Harry also show that the performance of mock solemnity can be highly entertaining. There is some anecdotal evidence of the broader existence of mock sermons in medieval England, and perhaps we should not be surprised that few others survive, given their crude postures, suspect subject-matter, and, if this and later examples are indicative, permissive attitudes toward debauched performance contexts.

Both the debauchery and the nonsense of this sermon anticipates the alliterative poem that rounds off the booklet: what Thorlac Turville-Petre has titled The Battle of Brakonwet (item 3; fol. 10 v). Here is the poem in full: The mone in þe mornyng merely rose When þe sonne & þe sevon sterrs softely wer leyd In a slommuryng of slepe, for-slokond with ale. A hoswyfe of Holbrucke owt hornus blu For all þo pekke was for-bedon paryng of chese; Þo reyncus of Radforde wer redy at a nonswer For to expond þe spavens of þe spade half. Tom þe teplar tryde in þe gospell What schuld fall of þe fournes in þe frosty murnyng. At þe batell of Brakonwet þer as þe beyre justyd Sym saer & þe swynkote þei wer sworne breder. Þe hare & harþeston burtuld to-geydur Whyle þe hombulbe hod was hacked alto cloutus. Þer schalmo[l] þe scheldrake & schepe trumpyd, Hogge with his hornpipe hyod hym be-lyve & dansyd on þe downghyll whyle all þei dey lastyd With Magot & Margory & Malyn hur sysstur. Þe prest in to þe place pryce for to wynne. Kene men of Combur comen be-lyve For to mot[e] of mychewhat more þen a lytyll, How Reynall & Robyn Hod runnon at þe gleyve.    (fol. 10 v) 30

Once again we see the hypocoristic nicknames: Tom the Templar, Sym Sawyer, and Robin Hood. We also see Magot, Margery, and Malyn, this latter name conventionally associated with serving women, peasant women, or women of ill repute. 31 Here too we find nonsense images of animals engaged in the matter of romance: jousting bears; fighting hares; battling bumblebees; heraldic ducks and sheep, and merry-making hoggs. As Thorlac Turville-Petre has identified, the poem gives several placenames: Holbrook, Radford, and Brakonwet, now called Brakenfield. Combur could be an erroneous or alternative spelling for the village of Codnor, or it could refer to a village now dissolved but survived through the name of nearby Cumberhills Farm. All these villages (and the farm) lie within about an eight-mile radius of each other in eastern Derbyshire and western Nottinghamshire. Less than a two-hour walk west from Brakenfield, too, is Tibshelf, where the Sherbrook family was living in the early sixteenth century, and from Brakenfield it would be another two hours’ walk south to the village of Heage, from which Richard Heege almost certainly draws his name. 32 Andrew Taylor has suggested that rural minstrels may have tramped fairly localized beats, as many gigging musicians do nowadays, and a Brackenfield-Holbrook-Radford itinerary forms a tidy circuit, in which stops at Heage, Codnor, and Tibshelf would not have introduced significant detours. 33 Along with the playful neighbouring-village rivalry hinted at in The Hunting of the Hare , this poem invites the audience to imagine the fictive and comic (indeed absurd) incidents it describes as occurring in a local and familiar geography. It also invites the audience to reflect on the position of the narrator or performer, who has knowledge of these nearby places and has travelled back to share the news: the more comic and ironic the news, all the better for its entertainment value.

The poem has two further features worth commenting on. The first is the line ‘In a slommuryng of slepe, for-slokond with ale’. Here we have a rather fine demonstration of alliterative verse, and indeed a fine evocation of its more literary examples, such as the beginning of Piers Plowman . As with the mock sermon that cleverly apes pious and philosophical discourses, it serves as a caution against constructing neat categories of learned and lewd, or thinking that popular entertainments are not capable of poetic achievement. Still, the higher the register, the more comic the fall, for here we have, too, the familiar tavern, alehouse, or festival trope of epic beer-drinking, and the clever double entendre of ‘for-slokond’, which can mean both ‘quenched’ and ‘drenched’. 34 This line is also interesting in its similarity to a line from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . At the start of the romance, after Arthur’s court witnesses the ‘fantoum and fayrye’ (l. 240) of the Green Knight, the Gawain -Poet gives a simile to describe how dumbstruck all the courtiers were: ‘As all were slypped on slepe so slaked her lotes | in hye’ (ll. 244–5). 35 Putter and Stokes note that the phrase ‘slypped on slepe’ is a common idiom, 36 and I would add that it is a regional idiom, with attestations from Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire, and Lincolnshire. In the penultimate line of The Battle of Brakonwet , ‘mychewhat’, meaning to chat or make small-talk about this or that, also appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (l. 1280), and the MED offers only one other witness, from The Parliament of the Three Ages , which has been located to central Nottinghamshire. 37 Given the use of regional idioms and vocabulary, the hyper-local placenames, and the reference to the tales told of Robin hood so close to (or indeed within) Nottinghamshire, it seems like The Battle of Brakonwet is very much a poem of its own place, intended for a specific audience of eastern-Derbyshire/western-Nottinghamshire locals, and one that offers absurdist glimpses of folk custom and folk fantasy in ways that accord with the other two pieces in the booklet.

The case for Richard Heege copying this booklet from a minstrel’s repertoire is ultimately circumstantial. No exemplar survives, and there is no irrefutable documentary evidence. Still, there are enough fingerprints at the scene to make the argument for minstrel origins more plausible than its hitherto assumed origins in textual communities of exemplar circulation, of the kind that surely led to the creation of the other eight booklets that now make up the manuscript. To summarize: there is no positive evidence of duplication from circulating exemplars, as all three texts survive in this booklet only; all three texts are wholly original, neither translated nor otherwise broadly derived from known sources; all three are clearly interactive pieces intended for live performance, evidently for mixed-estate audiences who are assumed to be in the throes of merry-making; and all three make play with local settings and localized audiences, with the The Battle of Brakonwet referring to villages within close proximity of Richard Heege’s presumed locale.

The question of whether we are dealing with a professional travelling minstrel or a local amateur performer is also a matter of speculation. To suggest the two possibilities, however, does not require a binary. A ‘professional’ minstrel might have a day job and go gigging at night, 38 and so be, in a sense, semi-professional, just as a ‘travelling’ minstrel may well be also ‘local’, working a beat of nearby villages and generally known in the area. On balance, the texts in this booklet suggest a minstrel of this variety: someone whose material includes several local place-names, but also whose material is made to travel, with the lack of determinacy designed to comically engage audiences regardless of specific locale. In functional and structural ways, then, these texts seem especially suited to the trade of minstrelsy.

If we pursue this hypothesis, the question emerges of whether Heege copied from a minstrel’s repertoire book, or from a minstrel’s live performance (or later oral recitation). While either is possible, and the ability to capture script from live performance is well attested through sermon reportationes and through practices in the early modern theatre, 39 the case for Heege copying from an existing minstrel’s repertoire manuscript seems most compelling. Why? Because nonsense is the antithesis of the mnemonic. Sure, tail-rhyme, with its short lines, simple structure, frequent rhymes, and propensity for stock images and repeated phrases, lends itself to the memory requirements of the minstrel’s craft. But a prose sermon peppered with nonsense sequences, and a nonsense poem in non-rhyming alliterative long-lines is another matter altogether. This, in turn, begs the question of whether the nonsense, or the prose, is the reason a minstrel would write out his texts to begin with. Surely it remains a strong hypothesis that the reason minstrel manuscripts do not survive from the Middle Ages is because few of them were created to begin with. If minstrels did not see themselves ideologically or economically opposed to trends in textual technologies, such technologies may well have been seen as an unnecessary expense and burden. Memory, after all, is free. But what if you develop a repertoire that includes nonsense, even nonsense in prose? Then, perhaps, an aide-memoire would be especially advantageous. A performer’s actual aide-memoire, as opposed to a cleric’s copy of one, would be unlikely to survive, though one instance might be the four-inch by 11-inch strip of parchment now bound with Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson D.913. It contains fragments and opening lines of several lyrics and may well have served as a kind of ‘set list’ for a gigging performer. 40 If, indeed, this was its purpose, it stands as a scrappy witness to the prospect that minstrels could use written documents, just as it suggests how slight and vulnerable those pages might have been.

Some evidence from the fifteenth century survives of monies spent for the purposes of copying out entertainments. In the winter of 1406 Richard Milford, Bishop of Salisbury, purchased 11 quires of paper to copy out or create Christmas entertainments for his household:

xi quarternis papiri emptis ibidem per eundem pro interludiis tempore Natalis Domini inde faciendi ii s. ix. d. ob.
[Eleven paper quires have been bought from the same place through the same person for interludes at Christmas time and for their making ii s. ix. d. ob.] 41

The record shows that not only were ‘interludes’ for household entertainments committed to manuscript, but also that by the early fifteenth century retailers (in this case, Thomas Croxby of London) were providing quires of blank paper ready-made for copying out booklets. While this account pre-dates Richard Heege’s efforts by more than half a century, the price is worth noting. Of course, the cost of a paper quire could vary by paper quality, paper size, and quire volume, but for quires of quality and size deemed appropriate for copying out entertainments, Richard Milford paid three pence each, and given that the Heege booklet under discussion here consists of a single paper quire, it gives us a rough sense of the material cost of the booklet, and indeed the approximate cost of equivalent pages in the minstrel’s repertoire manuscript from which Heege may have copied: three pennies. What kind of dent might that make on the purse of a travelling minstrel? Records of payments to minstrels in the fifteenth century show a broad spectrum of remuneration, from allowances of wine to one-off cash sums to annual stipends, but here is one representative example. In the Shropshire town of Ludlow, on 28 May 1447, two minstrels—one being a harpist—were paid for performing at the feast of Pentecost, ii s vi d, or, if indeed they split it evenly, 15 pence each. 42 Examples such as this, among many others like it, suggest that purchasing pages to copy out a repertoire would have been a substantial cost of doing business for a travelling minstrel in the fifteenth century. The extra expense, in other words, might be one reason among many that such scripts would be rare, but cost would not have been an insurmountable barrier for many minstrels: paper, in this mid-fifteenth-century context, was not prohibitively unaffordable.

All evidence considered, it seems most likely that the creation of the first booklet in MS Advocates’ 19.3.1 is the result of an apparently rare manuscript of minstrel entertainments, presumably travelling with its owner, landing in the hands of a provincial collector of literature and entertainments: Richard Heege. In this scenario, the isolated booklet provides a tidy material witness to Heege’s penchant for performance texts, but it may be the case that he had a nose for minstrel entertainments when compiling other booklets as well. For starters there are two texts across the remaining eight booklets that survive only in this manuscript and leave no evidence of circulation through exemplar reproduction (item 21; fols. 66 r–67 v, item 33; fols. 95 v–96 r). They are both secular lyrics of contemporary affairs, lamenting various injustices, and so may be thought of as good contenders for live performance scripts due to their topical and occasional content, and to their first-person voices. The most obvious contender for a script with origins in minstrel traditions, however, is another nonsense verse, found in what is now the manuscript’s fourth booklet (item 11; fols. 60 r–v). Nonsense verse in extant Middle English is extremely rare. Aside from the occasional short lyric, The Land of Cokayne , snippets of nonsense in other verse (for instance, the ‘rum, ram, ruf’ of Chaucer’s Parson), or the garbled macaronic nonsense of caricatured peasants found in the mystery plays), there are few other examples of surviving nonsense poems. In addition to Heege’s copy, it survives in National Library of Wales, Brogyntyn MS ii.1 (formerly Porkington 10), fols. 152 r–154 r, a near-contemporary miscellany from around the border of Cheshire and Shropshire.

The principle scribe of Brogyntyn ii.1, designated Scribe ‘O’ by Daniel Huws, seems to have shared Heege’s tastes for humour, nonsense, and performance pieces, as along with their shared nonsense verse, he also copied out a mock love lyric and two satirical letters, one of which being humorously nonsensical. 43 The nonsense poem they have in common is 66 lines as copied by Scribe ‘O’ and 49 lines in Heege’s copy. The broad narrative, insofar as one can be deduced, is the same in both, but every one of the overlapping or ‘shared’ lines contain verbal variation across the two witnesses, of the sort that suggests transmission through memory, or copying from live performance, or transmission through oral means at some stage between the two textual reproductions. Consider variations in the following ‘shared’ lines: ‘Þen wax I as pore as þo byschop of Chestur’ (Heege)/‘I wolde I were as bare as þe beschope of Chester’ (Scribe ‘O’); or ‘When Mydsomer evyn fell on Palmes Sounndey’ (Heege)/‘Þe Pame Sonday be-fele þat yere one Mydesondey’ (Scribe ‘O’). 44

This poem consists of a first-person narrative in which the performer is also the travelling protagonist, and it has many of the hallmarks of minstrelsy that we have witnessed already. It begins (according to the Heege copy): ‘Herkyn to my tale þat I schall to yow schew, | For of seche mervels have ye hard bot few’ (ll. 1–2; fol. 60 r); and at a transition in the action we get, ‘Fordurmore I went and moo marvels I founde’ (l. 27; fol. 60 r). The final lines offer, in repeat of lines at the start of the poem (ll. 3–4; fol. 60 r) an ironic claim that the performer has been telling the truth, and it ends with a prayer for something to drink: Yf all these be trwe þet bene in þis tale, God as he madde hus mend hus he mey, Save hus and sende hus sum drynke for þis dey. (ll. 45–7; fol. 60 v)

The poem chronicles two absurdist ‘marvels’. In the first, the travelling minstrel walks into a church populated entirely by fish; in the second, the minstrel attends a feast in which terrestrial animals, as well as some fish, cook the meal and provide the service and entertainment. In terms of minstrelsy, a sow sits on a high bank and harps tales of Robin Hood; a fox plays the fiddle; and a bumblebee the hornpipes. The feast is gargantuan, but just as in The Feast of Tottenham , not only is the narrator also a participant, but everything goes wrong; most kitchen utensils end up in the dishes themselves—ladles in the soups; tankards in the tartlets, and so on. At the poem’s conclusion, in the Advocates’ manuscript, is an ‘amen’, and an ‘Explicit’, followed by a colophon from Richard Heege:

Per me Recardum Heegge quod ipse fuit ad istud conviuium & non habuit potacionem. (fol. 60v)
[By me, Richard Heege, because I was at that feast and did not have a drink.]

It seems like there are two plausible interpretations here. On the one hand, Heege could be making a joke by imagining that he himself is the narrator of the poem who was at the absurdist feast with the animals and despite his concluding prayer for a drink he managed to stay sober enough to remember it and write a poem about it. In this scenario the question of whether he was the actual author of the poem or comically aligning himself with the voice of the copy-text remains a mystery. On the other hand, Heege could be referring to an actual feast he attended, in which this poem was performed by a travelling minstrel, during which he actually stayed sober enough to remember it and write it down, or copy it out from the minstrel’s repertoire manuscript. There is a certain logic, and meta-comedy, to a poem about a topsy-turvy feast—with its own minstrelsy and tales of Robin Hood—being performed during the service of an actual feast. 45 In this light, it is possible to see how the line ‘Þo beyr was þo gud kowke þat all þis meyte makes’ (l. 41; fol. 60 v) could bridge the gap between the fiction of the poem and the performative space of the dining hall. In either case, we can say that the colophon plays self-reflexively with occasions of festivity in which comic nonsense poems were performed and in which the happy (and perhaps rare) circumstance of relative sobriety was the sine qua non of scripts from those live performances being captured in manuscript.

What emerges from this colophon is an image of Richard Heege—a scribe with a sense of humour. What emerges, indeed, is a playful indeterminacy between text and paratext. What emerges is an ironizing of the scribe’s role as mediator between source material and the manuscript’s readers. It may be that the colophon is a confection, an extension of the meta-comedy that stretches the fictive frame to include the scribe in the absurdist goings-on of the poem. Conversely, it may be scribal reportage in the most straightforward sense of a dutiful cleric at a festive occasion. But of course it is too knowing, too teasing, to be reducible to one or the other. Like all texts in the first booklet, the colophon plays a game with the relationship between text, performer, and audience, and like several of the comic texts that Heege copies, it is a joke that hinges on the prospect of a debauch.

Yet, despite Heege’s ironizing and meta elusiveness, he still leaves us with witnesses, with an archive. The booklets he copied and compiled preserve contemporary poems that dramatize and thematize feasting and merry-making, drinking, and storytelling, and in the first booklet (and the fourth booklet’s nonsense verse), it seems we find preserved some examples of what kind of stories were being told. In ‘The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript’ Andrew Taylor shows how no surviving medieval manuscript can be confidently ascribed to a minstrel, either as owner or copyist. What Taylor also suggests is that we should not hold out hope of finding one, given the unlikelihood of survival and the fact that the ‘wear and tear’ evidence of travelling scripts is not alone proof enough. The conclusions of this essay do not contest that position. Rather, they suggest that we might look to other kinds of survivals for evidence of live-entertainment material—of minstrelsy—in later medieval England. Richard Heege left us scripts more mediated and less mobile than a travelling minstrel manuscript, he left us a record of materials for minstrel performance rather than the materials themselves, but for all that his record seems hardly less an authentic witness to live storytelling from later medieval England.

One of the more striking corollaries of this essay’s claim is that the repertoire preserved by Heege does not contain the sorts of texts most often associated with minstrelsy. It does not include a romance, or at least a conventional romance of heroism and adventure. 46 It also does not contain a Robin Hood ballad, despite the proximity to Sherwood Forrest, and despite the fact that two of the booklet’s three texts refer to minstrel performances of Robin Hood tales. It also does not contain a play, or a straightforwardly dramatic interlude, though of course in the mock sermon the minstrel would presumably don the guise of a priest. Of course, this is not to question the prospect that medieval minstrels performed romances, or drama, or Robin Hood ballads, but rather that the witnesses preserved by Heege expand the parameters of a performance repertoire beyond what we have hitherto deemed conventional, to include prose as well as verse; to include the satiric, ironic, and nonsensical; the topical, the interactive, the meta-fictional and meta-comedic. The picture that emerges is one of a performer’s willingness to poke fun of audiences across the spectrum of estates hierarchy within individual performance pieces. A picture also emerges of folk consciousness and folk lore: of folk speech, of folk custom, and folk fantasy. What we find in these texts is a vestige of medieval life lived vibrantly: the good times being as good as they ever have been, and probably ever will.

See Andrew Taylor, ‘The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript’, Speculum , 66 (1991), 43–73; also, Andrew Taylor, ‘Fragmentation, Corruption, and Minstrel Narration: The Question of the Middle English Romances’, The Yearbook of English Studies , 22 (1992), 38–62; P. R. Coss, ‘Aspects of Cultural Diffusion in Medieval England: The Early Romances, Local Society, and Robin Hood’, Past & Present , 108 (1985), 35–79.

R. M. Wilson considers references and allusions to minstrel texts in The Lost Literature of Medieval England (New York, NY, 1952; 2 nd edn London, 1970). For an intriguing study on the scale of lost manuscripts from medieval England, see Mike Kestemont, et al, ‘Forgotten Books: The Application of Unseen Species Models to the Survival of Culture’, Science , 375 (2022), 765–9, <doi:10.1126/science.abl7655>.

Ad Putter, ‘Middle English Romances and the Oral Tradition’, in Karl Reichl (ed.), Medieval Oral Literature (Berlin, 2012), 335–51; also, Linda Marie Zaerr, Performance and the Middle English Romance (Cambridge, 2012), esp. 52–77.

On names, instruments, and places of association, see Taylor, ‘The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript’, 65–7. See also the records listed in Richard Rastall, ‘The Minstrels of the English Royal Households, 25 Hen VIII: An Inventory’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle , 4 (1964), 1–41; Constance Bullock-Davies, Menestrellorum Multitudo: Minstrels at a Royal Feast (Cardiff, 1978) and A Register of Royal and Baronial Domestic Minstrels, 1272–1327 (Cambridge, 1986).

Daniel Wakelin makes this point in ‘The Carol in Writing: Three Anthologies from Fifteenth-Century Norfolk’, Journal of the Early Book Society , 9

(2006), 25–49.

On the possibility of household-based, amateur performances in the fifteenth century see George Shuffleton, ‘Is there a Minstrel in the House: Domestic Entertainment in Late Medieval England’, Philological Quarterly, 87 (2008), 51–76.

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikoli Leskov’, in Illuminations , ed. , tr.(New York, NY, 1969), 83–109.

The earliest known minstrel repertoire manuscript dates from 1556–1558, and is now Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 48. See Andrew Taylor, The Songs and Travels of a Tudor Minstrel: Richard Sheale of Tamworth (York, 2012).

The Heege Manuscript: A Facsimile of National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.3.1 , ed. by Phillipa Hardman (Leeds, 2000); Phillipa Hardman, ‘A Medieval “Library in Parvo”’, Medium Aevum , 47 (1978), 262–73; Phillipa Hardman, ‘A Note on Some “Lost” Manuscripts’, The Library , 30 (1975), 245–7.

For instance, a stanza on the concept of deceit from the Fall of Princes is mashed up with other proverbial expressions to create, effectively, a different poem (item 13; fol. 61 v), and one that makes our attribution of the fragment to Lydgate seem like a scholarly anachronism. From Fall of Princes , Book II. 4432–8. In H. Bergen (ed.), Lydgate’s Fall of Princes , EETS ES, 121–4, 4 vols (1924–1927), 2. 324.

See Michael Johnston, Romance and the Gentry in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 2014), esp. 128–58; Thorlac Turville-Petre, ‘Some Medieval English Manuscripts in the North-East Midlands’, in Derek Pearsall (ed.), Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth-Century England: The Literary Implications of Manuscript Study (Cambridge, 1981, 1983), 125–41.

For a codicological overview see Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen, ‘Introduction’, in Richard Beadle and A. E. B. Owen (eds), The Findern Manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS Ff.i.6 (London, 1978), i–xxxiii. On the book’s importance as a collection of Middle English secular lyrics, see Russell Hope Robins, ‘The Findern Anthology’, PMLA , 69 (1954), 610–42.

In addition to Hardman, The Heege Manuscript, and Johnston, Romance and the Gentry in Late Medieval England , see Raluca Radulescu, Romance and its Contexts in Fifteenth-Century England: Politics, Piety and Penitence (Cambridge, 2013), esp. 1–39; Myra Seaman, ‘Renovating the Household Through Affective Invention in Manuscripts Ashmole 61 and Advocates 19.3.1’, in Glenn D. Burger and Rory G. Critten (eds), Household Knowledges in Late-Medieval England and France (Manchester, 2019), 74–99.

For an edition and discussion of this text see David Scott-Macnab, ‘The Hunttyng of the Hare in the Heege Manuscript’, Anglia , 128 (2010), 102–23. In quoting from this text I follow Scott-Macnab’s edition. The whole of the Heege Manuscript is available online in digitized form, from the National Library of Scotland’s website: < https://digital.nls.uk/early-manuscripts/browse/archive/133680060#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=−316%2C-201%2C3314%2C4015 > accessed 17 April 2023.

Walter Scott, ‘Essay on Romance’, in The Mics. Prose Works of Walter Scott, Bart ., vol. 6 (Edinburgh, 1834), 127–216 (143); see also, Walter Scott, ‘Evans’s Old Ballads’, in The Mics. Prose Works of Walter Scott, Bart. , vol. 17 (Edinburgh, 1835), 119–36 (132–3).

These survive in three manuscripts: London, British Library, MS Harley 5396; Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, MS Ff.5.48; Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Library, MS English 590 F. See Erik Kooper (ed.), Sentimental and Humorous Romances (Kalamazoo, MI, 2005).

Item 18 in the manuscript (fols. 63 r–64 v) is also concerned with hunting. It is a manual intended to educate in the proper terms of various hunting activities. Even this, though, strays into comedy, in the form of anti-clerical satire: ‘an abhominabul syght of munkus | a superfluyte of nones’ (fol. 64 r).

For instance: ‘Thus sone won hit hym on the backe, | That euer aftur his arse seyd ‘Qwacke!’, | When he schulld ryse to walke. (ll. 214–16; fols. 5 v–6 r).

MED ‘hapli’ adv. The manuscript gives what appears to be ‘appyngly’ with the ‘ng’ rubbed out (fol. 1 r).

Kathleen M. Ashley and Gerard NeCastro (eds), Mankind (Kalamazoo, MI, 2010), ll. 274, 452, 505–15 < https://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/ashley-and-necastro-mankind > accessed 17 April 2023; see also Jessica Brantley and Thomas Fulton, ‘ Mankind in a Year Without Kings’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies , 36 (2006), 321–54 (347, n. 20).

Discussion of Alice de Bryene from Shuffleton, ‘Is there a Minstrel in the House?’, 67; see V. Redstone, The Household Book of Alice de Bryene (Ipswich, 1932); Ffiona Swabey, Medieval Gentlewoman: Life In A Gentry Household in the Later Middle Ages (New York, NY, 1999), esp. 42, 91–2; revised edition, Ffiona von Westhoven Perigrinor, Life in a Medieval Gentry Household: Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk, c.1360–1435 (London, 2021).

On peasant names and naming see Emily Steiner, ‘Naming and Allegory in Late Medieval England’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology , 106 (2007), 248–75.

For an edition and discussion see Malcolm Jones, ‘The Parodic Sermon in Medieval and Early Modern England’, Medium Aevum , 66 (1997), 94–114.

See Jones, ‘The Parodic Sermon’, 96.

Jones, ‘The Parodic Sermon’, 95.

In quoting from this text I follow Jones’s edition throughout.

See Aisling Byrne, ‘The Intruder at the Feast: Negotiating Boundaries in Medieval Insular Romance’, Arthurian Literature , 27 (2010), 33–57.

See Brantley and Fulton, ‘ Mankind in a Year Without Kings’, 321–54; Anthony Gash, ‘Carnival against Lent: The Ambivalence of Medieval Drama’, in David Aers (ed.), Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology, and History (Brighton, 1986), 74–98.

In quoting this poem I follow Turville-Petre’s edition: ‘Some Medieval English Manuscripts in the North-East Midlands’, 137–8.

MED ‘Malkin’ n.

See Turville-Petre, ‘Some Medieval English Manuscripts in the North-East Midlands’, 138; Johnson, Romance and the Gentry , 144–9.

See Taylor, The Songs and Travels of a Tudor Minstrel , 18, 24–7.

MED ‘forslokened’ ppl.

See Ad Putter and Myra Stokes (eds), The Works of the Gawain Poet: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience, Cleanness (London, 2014), 274.

See Putter and Stokes (eds), The Works of the Gawain Poet , 618.

MED ‘muche-what’ pron.

See Taylor, ‘The Myth of the Minstrel Manuscript’, 73.

See Malcolm B. Parkes, Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts (London, 1991), 19–33; Tiffany Stern, Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page (London, 2004), esp. 46–7.

See John Burrow, ‘Poems Without Contexts: The Rawlinson Lyrics’, Essays in Criticism , 29 (1979), 6–32.

Quoted from Orietta da Rold, Paper in Medieval England: From Pulp to Fictions (Cambridge, 2020), 143.

From J. Alan B. Somerset (ed.), Records of Early English Drama: Shropshire (Toronto, 1994), 74.

See Daniel Huws, ‘Porkington 10 and Its Scribes’, in Jennifer Fellows, Rosalind Field, Gillian Rogers, Judith Weiss (eds), Romance Reading on the Book. Essays on Medieval Narrative presented to Maldwyn Mills (Cardiff, 1996), 188–207; the satirical letter with nonsense passages has been edited by Nancy P. Pope, ‘A Middle English Satirical Letter in Brogyntyn MS II.1’, ANQ , 18 (2005), 35–9.

The texts from both manuscripts are printed in Reliquiae antiquae: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts, Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature , ed. by Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell, 2 vols (London, 1845), 1. 81–2, 85–6. My quotations follow this edition, with original manuscript spellings retained. Brogyntyn MS II.1 is available online in digitized form, from the National Library of Wales’s website: < https://www.library.wales/discover-learn/digital-exhibitions/manuscripts/the-middle-ages/a-middle-english-miscellany > accessed 17 April 2023.

On records of minstrels performing at provincial houses see Shuffleton, ‘Is there a Minstrel in the House?’, 67.

On the extensive ‘ prima facie ’ evidence for minstrels performing romances, see Putter, ‘Middle English Romances and the Oral Tradition’, esp. 340; also, see Zaerr’s list of references to minstrel performance in romances, Performance and the Middle English Romance , 181–233.

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Ancient Greek Verbs: How Aspect and Aktionsart Effect Interpretation

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I like to say to students that, in ancient Greek, verbs are where the action is. It’s a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that, of course, verbs are doing words, but also that verbs are centrally significant for the way that ancient Greek functions. The verbal system is the engine room of the Greek language.

Given their great power for communication, it’s no surprise that Greek verbs are complicated. There’s aspect, voice, mood, person, and number to consider, making Greek verbs highly inflected—each verb-form communicates a great deal, and verbs require much unpacking. Basic reading of Greek requires us to be able to decode all the inflected information in each verb-form. But how do we go beyond the basics? How should we approach Greek verbs to better appreciate their contribution to each Greek sentence and paragraph? And how much reward is there for going deeper with Greek verbs?

From a negative point of view, a good understanding of Greek verbs will enable us to assess and critique some of the scholarly conclusions reached about various Greek passages. New Testament commentaries frequently engage with the Greek text as a matter of course and often build the case for their conclusions using arguments arising from their understanding of Greek verbs. These conclusions then filter down to classes or sermons heard in church on Sunday. Teachers and pastors consult the commentaries and shape their content around the conclusions reached there. Lectures and sermons affect the understanding of regular people, who take their teachers’ or pastors’ conclusions to their Bible discussion groups, and before we know it the view that originated in the commentary has become folklore.

But what if the original argument was flawed? What if the argument hinged on a misinformed understanding of the Greek verbal system? What if our understanding of biblical texts has been distorted, even just a little, by incorrect handling of Greek verbs?

If you think such a phenomenon is rare, my sense is that it’s more common than you think. Understanding Greek verbs matters.

From a positive point of view, a good understanding of Greek verbs will enable us to see how narratives are shaped and to see new possibilities for exegesis that were previously hidden from view. We will be able to describe verbal usage in a manner that is accurate, coherent, and neither too precise nor too vague. All these things are useful advances.

Related article: Is New Testament Greek the Most Precise Language Known to Mankind?

The two main areas that have attracted scholarly attention in recent years are verbal aspect and voice. While the discussions about voice are significant, including the abolishment of the category of deponency, here we will focus on verbal aspect and its partner in crime, Aktionsart . 1 In what follows I will offer a simplified overview of what aspect is, how it relates to Aktionsart , and how the two categories together can shape the way we understand Greek verbs and therefore the texts to which they powerfully contribute.

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Verbal aspect

Within the study of linguistics there are different ways in which the term aspect is used, but the standard meaning—and the one adopted most widely within Κοινή Greek linguistics—is that aspect refers to viewpoint . The viewpoint is the way in which a verb is used to view an action, either from outside the action or from inside it. Buist Fanning describes aspect thus:

The action can be viewed from a reference-point within the action, without reference to the beginning or end-point of the action, but with a focus instead on its internal structure or make-up. Or the action can be viewed from a vantage-point outside the action, with focus on the whole action from beginning to end, but without reference to its internal structure. 2

Verbal aspect should be understood as distinct from, but related to, the categories of tense and Aktionsart . There has been some heated debate about tense in the ancient Greek verbal system, and we will side-step that here. 5 Suffice to say that tense refers to how verbs are used to convey temporal reference—past, present, future, etc.—while aspect is about viewpoint and not temporal reference.

Aktionsart literally means “type of action,” and refers to the nature of action depicted by any particular verb. Is it punctiliar (happening in a point of time), stative (expressing a state or condition), iterative (happening repeatedly), etc.? Aktionsart is not the same as aspect, which is concerned with viewpoint (external or internal; perfective or imperfective), not the specific type of action that any particular verb conveys. However, aspect and Aktionsart relate to each other in some predictable ways, and having a basic grasp of these interactions can be very useful for exegesis of Greek verbs.

Aspect and lexemes

Before we can explore how aspect and Aktionsart interact, however, it is important to have some understanding of Greek verbal lexemes. This is because Aktionsart is a product of the combination of factors such as aspect, lexeme, and context. In order to appreciate how aspect affects our interpretation of Greek verbs, we need to talk about lexemes. The following discussion lays out some key categories that will help the budding interpreter of Κοινή Greek texts.

First it should be noted that lexical analysis can become very complicated, and this is not the place to wade into deeper waters. But second, the good news is that with some basic pointers, the interpreter will be able to engage the interpretative process outlined in the next section of this essay.

Transitive and intransitive lexemes can be subcategorized in a million different ways, but it’s worth pointing to one subcategory each. A key subcategory of transitive lexemes is punctiliar action. A punctiliar action is performed on an object in an instantaneous fashion. It is a one-off, immediate action with very short duration. A lexeme can be labelled punctiliar if the action it conveys cannot be drawn out for any length of time. English lexemes such as “punch,” “kick,” “throw,” and so forth, are all punctiliar. Note that you can repeat a punctiliar action like punching, but one punch can’t last for two minutes (not even in slow motion!).

A key subcategory of intransitive lexemes, by contrast, is stativity. A stative verbal lexeme does not refer to an action performed upon an object, but instead describes a state of being. In fact, a stative lexeme does not really convey an action at all—it simply depicts a state. English lexemes such as “sleep,” “die,” and “decide” are all stative.

To summarize: in order to engage the interpretative process outlined in the next section of this article, we need to appreciate that some lexemes are transitive while other lexemes are intransitive. Of the transitive lexemes, some are also punctiliar. Of the intransitive lexemes, some are also stative.

Aspect and Aktionsart

In my textbook introduction, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek , 7 I present a simplified method for understanding aspect and Aktionsart interactions in Κοινή Greek text. Drawing particularly on the work of Buist Fanning at this point, I acknowledge the usefulness of observing predictable patterns that emerge from the combinations of aspects with lexical types. The combination of aspect, lexeme, and context work together to create Aktionsart expressions, or implicatures.

While the aspect of a tense-form is fixed (aorists are always perfective in aspect; presents are always imperfective; etc.), the Aktionsart expression of each tense-form varies according to aspect, lexeme, and context. This means it is easy to determine which viewpoint each verb expresses (i.e., perfective aspect = external viewpoint; imperfective aspect = internal viewpoint), but the Aktionsart function of any particular verb is not so obvious. While older grammars and commentaries tend to make claims about the Aktionsarten of various verbs, such designations were generally intuited since there was no established method for analyzing Aktionsart .

In Basics of Verbal Aspect , I present a four-step process that identifies the key elements in exegeting the function of a verb in context. First, the aspect of the verb is identified (e.g., perfective aspect). Second, the type of lexeme must be taken into account (e.g., transitive: punctiliar). Third, relevant elements of the context are considered (e.g., a repeated action is implied). Finally, the Aktionsart is determined based on predictable patterns of the combinations of the previous three elements (e.g., iterative Aktionsart ).

Aorist indicative

Summary aktionsart.

Perfective aspect with a non-punctiliar, non-stative lexeme can create a summary Aktionsart . This is the default function of the aorist indicative and simply expresses that something happened, without further specification.

Punctiliar Aktionsart

Perfective aspect with a punctiliar lexeme can create a punctiliar Aktionsart . This expresses an action that is once-occurring and instantaneous.

For example:

ἀλλ’ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν , καὶ ἐξῆλθεν εὐθὺς αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (John 19:34)

The punctiliarity of this action is obvious, given the nature of “piercing,” together with the immediate result of the action (“at once”). The point here, however, is that not all aorists are punctiliar (as is sometimes mistakenly claimed). It is this particular lexeme, in concert with perfective aspect, that creates a punctiliar Aktionsart . Moreover, if the same lexeme were used with imperfective aspect, rather than perfective, it would create an iterative Aktionsart. This would mean that the soldiers kept stabbing Jesus, which would be a very different picture from that presented by the aorist here.

Ingressive Aktionsart

Perfective aspect with a stative lexeme, in a context that indicates entrance into a state or sets a new direction, can create an ingressive Aktionsart . This expresses the entrance into a state or the beginning of a new action.

ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω . He was in the world, and the world was created through him, yet the world did not recognize him. (John 1:10)

To recognize the Word, rather than simply to “know” him, views the action (“did not recognize”) as entrance into the state of knowledge. Here the verb is negated, so that the world did not come into this state.

Gnomic Aktionsart

Perfective aspect with any lexeme in a context of “general reality” can create a gnomic Aktionsart . This expresses a universal and timeless action.

οὓς δὲ προώρισεν , τούτους καὶ ἐκάλεσεν · καὶ οὓς ἐκάλεσεν , τούτους καὶ ἐδικαίωσεν · οὓς δὲ ἐδικαίωσεν , τούτους καὶ ἐδόξασεν . And those he predestines, he also calls ; and those he calls , he also justifies ; and those he justifies , he also glorifies . (Rom 8:30)

This verse has been notoriously difficult for interpreters who take the aorists as past-referring—“those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified.” Since glorification is normally understood to occur in the future, interpreters tend to claim that the past-referring aorist “glorified” is used because the future is so certain that it can be claimed as being done already. This highly unlikely understanding is not necessary, however, once it is recognized that this string or aorists can be explained as gnomic in function. They do not refer to past events but to a series of activities that God performs—predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying. As a general statement of reality, the gnomic reading does not require these actions to be locked into any specific timeframe.

Present aorist

Perfective aspect with any lexeme in a present referring context can implicate present temporal reference. Strictly speaking, this is not an Aktionsart , but is a special function of the aorist nonetheless.

καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν· σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα . And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased .” (Mark 1:11)

No one takes the aorist here as past-referring. The context and theological concerns make its present temporal reference much more likely. To say that the voice from heaven was pleased (rather than is pleased) with Jesus does not fit the concern of the passage, nor our theological understanding of who Jesus is.

Future aorist

Perfective aspect with any lexeme in a future referring context can implicate a future aorist. More common than the present aorist, this is another special function of the aorist.

Some examples illustrate how this all works out in various texts.

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος· εἰ ἔχετε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐλέγετε ἂν τῇ συκαμίνῳ [ταύτῃ]· ἐκριζώθητι καὶ φυτεύθητι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ· καὶ ὑπήκουσεν ἂν ὑμῖν. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” the Lord said, “you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6)

It makes little sense to take this aorist as past-referring, since it conveys an action that is contingent on a prior action—neither of which have yet happened. The aorist conveys a potentially future action.

With careful consideration of verbal aspect, of the lexeme of the verb in question, and of the context, we can discern the function of a verb in its context. While there is admittedly some subjectivity involved (especially in evaluating the context), this process is a more reliable guide than pure intuition. While there is still some intuition involved, to be sure, at least this method allows us (and others) to scrutinize our conclusions. We are able to pick the process apart and consider each step in relation to others. And that is a genuine advance on the “intuition-alone” approach.

While aspect is only one element at work within a Greek verb—alongside mood and voice—it is an important one. Aspect interacts with lexeme and context to create Aktionsart expressions, which tell us how actions are to be understood in each instance. And this in turn shapes how we read Greek phrases, sentences, and even whole pericopes.

The process outlined in this article is really an oversimplification and is not foolproof. But it is offered as a method to help readers of ancient Greek texts to think about the various elements that factor in to the interpretative process. There is no need to be intimidated by Greek verbs or verbal aspect. With some basic understanding of concepts and some clear steps forward, we can all become more proficient at reading Greek verbs and therefore at reading Greek.

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study reading meaning

Constantine Campbell

Constantine Campbell is Professor and Associate Research Director at the Sydney College of Divinity, and previously served as Professor of New Testament studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and Moore Theological College in Sydney. Campbell is the author of 16 books, with focus on ancient Greek, New Testament interpretation, and the apostle Paul. His book Paul and Union with Christ was the 2014 Christianity Today Book of the Year in Biblical Studies.

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