MS. Cotton Nero A. x, fol.130.
© British Library Board. MS. Cotton Nero A. x, fol. 129r
So, the Bodleian has a very cool, very free Exhibition on at the moment: ‘The Romance of the Middle Ages.’ It is located in exhibition room of Old Schools Quad and hours of opening can be found here. While the room itself is quite small, it is positively choc full of stunning manuscripts and the accompanying text is well thought out and really ties the exhibition together. Among the manuscripts on display are the earliest copy of Le Chanson de Roland, the Welsh Red Book of Hergest, and- most impressive to my mind- British Library Cotton Nero A.x, the Pearl Manuscript and the only extant witness to Gawain and the Green Knight. I really cannot speak highly enough of this compact but exciting space. While it might seem trivial, anyone who has every tried to get the BL to let them consult Cotton Nero A.x realizes the formidable (hopeless) nature of the task. One would be more likely to win a beheading game with green giant then spend quality alone time with Cotton Nero. As such, I was fully surprised and duly impressed by the curator’s ability to secure the book on loan for public viewing. Even if you don’t care two bits about medievalism or adventure, this specific book is such an important cultural treasure- at least for anyone who speaks English- that seeing it alone is worth the time to walk over. Nor does the curator limit themselves to the medieval period. While the exhibition is primarily historical, it does explore how medieval romance has filtered into the medievalisms of our day- i.e. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K. Rawling. And, seriously, it’s free. Like the Treasure Room at the BL, you are really quite foolish if you pass by and don’t spend a half an hour there.