Reading Literature

  • Tibor Fabiny


This short poem from Alan of Lille from the twelfth century illustrates very well the figurative view of reality characteristic of the medieval period. In Chapter 4 we looked at the principle of ‘pictura quasi scriptura’ which implies that ‘picture’ can be conceived of as a figuration and thus a fulfilment or completion, of ‘Scripture’. By exploring this principle we hoped to gain some sort of biblical justification for the visual arts in opposition to such extreme iconoclastic views inherent in the antivisual prejudice. This short poem takes us a step further, inviting us to extend the idea of biblical figuration. Alan’s song perceives the whole created world ‘quasi liber et pictura’. This involves the notion that the whole world — including nature and history, as well as the human individual — constitutes God’s grand design. Each item of the created world is a sign pointing to the Creator: in semiotic terms, God is the ‘signifier’ and the world the ‘signified’. Gabriel Josipovici in a seminal essay on ‘The World as a Book’ quotes Hugh of St Victor:

For this whole world is a book written by the finger of God, that is, created by divine power; and individual creatures are as figures therein not devised by human will but instituted by divine authority to show forth the invisible things of God.2


Reading Literature Biblical Text Typological Structure Figurative Interpretation Figurative Reading 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Quoted in Gabriel Josipovici, The World and the Book: A Study in Modern Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1971) p. 29.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Earl Miner (ed.), Literary Uses of Typology from the Middle Ages to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Murray Roston, Biblical Drama in England. From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (London: Faber and Faber, 1968).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Stuart George Hall (ed.), Melito of Sardis on Pascha and Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 19.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    V. A. Kolve, The Play Called Corpus Christi (London: Edward Arnold, 1966), p. 85.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Rosemary Woolf, ‘The Effect of Typology on the English Medieval Plays of Abraham and Isaac’, in Speculum, 32 (1957): 805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 12.
    R. T. Davies (ed.), The Corpus Christi Play of the English Middle Ages (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), p. 417.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    David Bevington, Medieval Drama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975, p. 308.)Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills (ed.), The Chester Mystery Cycle, EETS, S. S. 3. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 62.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Peter W. Travis, Dramatic Design in the Chester Cycle (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 80–1.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Northrop Frye, The Myth of Deliverance (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1983.) p. 3.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Béla Hamvas, Scientia Sacra: Az öskori emberiség szellemi hagyomânya (Budapest: Magvetö, 1988), p. 380.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    G. Wilson Knight, ‘Measure for Measure and the Gospels’, in The Wheel of Fire (London: Oxford University Press, 1930).Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    Paul Ricoeur, ‘The “Kingdom” in the Parables of Jesus’, in Anglican Theological Review, 63 (1981): 165–169.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    Roy W. Battenhouse, ‘Measure for Measure and the Christian Doctrine of the Atonement’, in PMLA, 61 (1946): 1029–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 25.
    On the Atonement cf. F. W. Dillistone, The Christian Understanding of Atonement (Digwell Place Welwyn: James Nisbet & Comp., 1968).Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    Nevil Coghill, ‘Comic Form in Measure for Measure’, in Shakespeare Survey, 8 (1955): pp. 14–27Google Scholar
  18. 31.
    T. S. Eliot, ‘Poetry and Drama’, in On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber and Faber, 1957), p. 81.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Northrop Frye, T. S. Eliot (London & Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1963).Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    David E. Jones, The Plays of T. S. Eliot (London: Routlege & Kegan Paul, 1960), p. 59.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tibor Fabiny 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tibor Fabiny
    • 1
  1. 1.Attila Jozsef UniversityHungary

Personalised recommendations