The extra-textual apparatus of a manuscript is an important aspect of the presentation and organization of the text itself. Marginal annotation is a vital part of this apparatus: written by both scribes and readers, in Latin and England’s two vernaculars (French and English). In laying out their manuscripts, book producers offer direction to subsequent readers as to the aspects of the text worthy of particular notice. Those readers, in contributing their own notes, both immortalized their reading of the text and adapted it for future readers by supplying apparatus they considered to be wanting. Marginal notes in the romance, therefore, illuminate the genre, defining the most important, most noteworthy aspects, and helping to define our expectations both of the normative in romances’ organizational apparatus, and of romance notes as a dependent genre.
Romances were not typically annotated, but when they were, the annotators have sought their model in the somewhat richer tradition of Brut chronicle annotation. The apparent straightforwardness of romance notes, often summarizing or even quoting the text, is belied by the complexity of the choices made by annotators in deciding what aspects of the text require annotation. Annotators seem to have viewed note-making as an educated activity – notes are as likely to be in Latin as in the English or Anglo-Norman of the texts themselves – and they appealed to a standard form and constellation of interests in the notes’ content. Notes were not provided as navigational aids to organize the manuscript, but were designed as guides to the reading of smaller, more digestible sequences or episodes. Conspicuous in the margins are names, of people, places and objects. Marvels also form an important aspect of the notes, suggesting both the centrality of the marvelous in the romance genre, and its importance to the medieval representation of history.