The Bodleian opened its new exhibition ‘The Romance of the Middle Ages’ last week. Amongst the exhibits are the comedian Terry Jones’ scripts for the 1974 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is being displayed to the public for the first time. Also on display are medieval illustrated manuscripts of love stories about King Arthur and Tristan and Isolde, alongside works of art and draft papers by J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman.
The exhibition was curated by Dr Nicholas Perkins, a Fellow and Tutor in English at St Hugh’s College and University Lecturer in Medieval English. Explaining his decision to exhibit 20th century works alongside medieval manuscripts, Dr Perkins said: “The activities of copying, translating, adapting, printing, editing, filming and studying medieval romance are in many ways part of an ongoing tradition as old as the genre itself. For many people, the idea of the Middle Ages is still filtered through Pre-Raphaelite art, or The Lord of the Rings.” He went onto say: “I was brought up reading Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, and watching Star Wars and Monty Python, not realising then how much they owed to these traditional romance stories.”
One second year student from St Edmund Hall said: “Terry Jones is Teddy Hall’s most famous son, it is about time one of alumni received the accolade of having their handiwork displayed in such a prominent exhibition. We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”
Amongst the exhibits is one of the most precious manuscripts of Middle English poetry Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c.1400), which is on loan from the British Library and a copy of the first book ever printed in the English language William Caxton’s The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1473/4)
When asked which exhibit was his favourite, Dr Perkins said: “If the building were to burn down and I could only save one item, it would probably be the catchily titled MS Bodl. 264: one of the most beautiful books of the Middle Ages, which has dozens of exquisite illuminated pictures.
“I also love the sole surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which we’ve been lucky enough to borrow from the British Library. But each time you go back to the room, you see something else that becomes a favourite for the time being.”
The exhibition will run until 17th May and the Bodleian has also launched an online version of the display.