An analysis of the punctuation of the Middle English "Letter of Ipocras" in London, Wellcome Library, MS 405

Teresa Marqués-Aguado


Punctuation in early English has been traditionally considered to lack consistency and systematicity, as shown in the relevant literature. Yet, recent research has uncovered that individual texts followed particular punctuation practices regarding signs and functions that were relatively systematic and consistent, even if they were also quite frequently text-based. In line with this, the present article explores the punctuation practice found in a copy of the Middle English medical text called Letter of Ipocras, the one held in London, Wellcome Library, MS 405. This contribution first reviews research on punctuation practices in Middle English texts and discusses the functions that historical punctuation has been reported to perform. Then, a cursory description of both the manuscript and the text is offered. Next, the punctuation signs found in the text are described and discussed, and their various functions at different levels illustrated with the help of examples. The article closes with a reflection on the global function of the pointing practice of the text, which veers towards the grammatical and pragmatic functions.


Middle English; medieval manuscripts; MS Wellcome 405; "Letter of Ipocras"; punctuation; function

Full Text:



Alonso Almeida, F. J. 2002. “Punctuation practice in a late Medieval English medical remedybook”. Folia Linguistica Historica 22 (1-2): 207-232.

Arakelian, P. G. 1975. “Punctuation in a late Middle English manuscript”. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 76: 614-624.

Brown, C. and R. H. Robbins. 1943. The index of Middle English verse. New York: Columbia University Press.

Brown, M. P. 1990. A guide to Western historical scripts from Antiquity to 1600. London: The British Library.

Calle-Martín, J. 2004. “Punctuation practice in a 15th-century arithmetical treatise (MS Bodley 790)”. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 4: 407-422.

Calle-Martín, J. and A. Miranda-García. 2005. “Editing Middle English punctuation. The case of MS Egerton 2622 (ff. 136-165)”. International Journal of English Studies 5 (2): 27-44.

Carroll, R. 1999. “Middle English recipe as a text-type”. Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 100 (1): 27-42.

Carroll, R., Peikola, M., Salmi, H., Varila, M.-L., Skaffari, J. and R. Hiltunen. 2013. “Pragmatics on the page”. European Journal of English Studies 17 (1): 54-71.

Cruz Cabanillas, I. de la. 2014. “Punctuation practice in manuscript Seinte Geneviève 3390”. Nordic Journal of English Studies 13 (3): 139-159.

Cruz Cabanillas, I. de la. 2016. “Is punctuation comparable? The case of London, Westminster School MS 3 and Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève MS 3390”. ES. Revista de Filología Inglesa 37: 11-31.

Edmar, D., ed. 1967. MS. Wellcome 405. A Middle English leech-book. Stockholm: Stockholm University.

Esteban-Segura, M. L. 2009. “Punctuation practice in G.U.L. MS Hunter 509”. Textual healing: Studies in Medieval English medical, scientific and technical texts. Eds. J. E. Díaz Vera and R. Caballero Rodríguez. Bern and New York: Peter Lang. 93-107.

Hamel, C. F. R. de. 1992. Scribes and illuminators. London: British Museum Press.

Hector, L. C. 1966. The handwriting of English documents. London: Edward Arnold.

Horobin, S. 2016. “Manuscripts and early printed books”. The Cambridge handbook of English historical linguistics. Eds. M. Kytö and P. Pahta. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 111-126.

Hudson, A. 1977. “Middle English”. Editing medieval texts: English, French and Latin written in England. Papers given at the twelfth Annual Conference on Editorial Problems. Ed. A. G. Rigg. New York and London: Garland. 34-57.

Hunt, T. 1990. Popular medicine in thirteenth-century England. Introduction and texts. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Jenkinson, H. 1926. “Notes on the study of English punctuation of the sixteenth century”. Review of English Studies 2 (6): 152-158.

Keiser, G. R. 1998. A manual of the writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, Vol. 10: Science and information. New Haven, CT: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Keiser, G. R. 2003. “Verse introductions to Middle English medical treatises”. English Studies 84 (4): 301-317.

Ker, N. R. 1969. Medieval manuscripts in British libraries: I London. Oxford: Clarendon.

Lucas, P. J. 1971. “Sense-units and the use of punctuation-markers in John Capgrave’s Chronicle”. Archivum Linguisticum 2: 3-24.

Marqués-Aguado, T. 2009. “Punctuation practice in the Antidotary in G.U.L. Ms Hunter 513 (ff. 37v - 96v)”. Miscelanea 39: 55-72.

Marqués-Aguado, T. 2011. “Depunctuating the Middle English Benvenutus Grassus: The cases of G.U.L. MSS Hunter 503 and 513”. Benvenutus Grassus' On the well-proven art of the eye: Practica oculorum & De probatissima arte oculorum. Synoptic Edition and Philological Studies. Eds. A. Miranda-García and S. González Fernández-Corugedo. Bern: Peter Lang. 55-74

Miranda García, A., Calle Martín, J., Moreno Olalla, D., González Fernández Corugedo, S. and G. D. Caie, comps. 2007-2014. The Málaga Corpus of Late Middle English Scientific Prose. (Accessed 10 November 2017).

Mooney, L. R., Mosser, D. W., Solopova, E., Thorpe, D. and D. Hill Radcliffe, comps. nd. Digital Index of Middle English Verse. (Accessed 5 November 2017)

Moorat, S. A. J. 1962. Catalogue of western manuscripts on medicine and science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library. Vol. 1. Catalogues written before 1650 AD. London: Publications of the Wellcome Historical Medical Library.

Moorman, C. 1975. Editing the Middle English manuscript. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.

Obegi Gallardo, N. 2006. “Punctuation in a fifteenth-century scientific treatise (MS Cambridge L1.4.14.)”. Linguistica e Filologia 22: 99-114.

Parkes, M. B. 1992. Pause and effect. An introduction to the history of punctuation in the West. Aldershot, Hants: Scolar Press.

Petti, A. G. 1977. English literary hands from Chaucer to Dryden. London: Edward Arnold.

Rodríguez-Álvarez, A. 1999. “The role of punctuation in 15th-century vernacular deeds”. Folia Linguistica Historica 19 (1-2): 25-51.

Rogos-Hebda, J. 2016. “The visual text: Bibliographic codes as pragmatic markers on a manuscript page”. Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 51 (3): 37-44.

Stannard, J. 1982. “Rezeptliteratur as Fachliteratur”. Studies on medieval Fachliteratur: Proceedings of the special session on medieval Fachliteratur of the sixteenth International Congress on Medieval Studies. Ed. W. Eamon. Brussels: Omirel. 59-73.

Taavitsainen, I. 2001. “Middle English recipes. Genre characteristics, text type features and underlying traditions of writing”. Journal of Historical Pragmatics 2 (1): 85-113.

Tavormina, M. T. 2007. “The Middle English Letter of Ipocras”. English Studies 88 (6): 632-652.

Voigts, L. E. and P. Deery Kurtz. 2000. Scientific and medical writings in Old and Middle English: An electronic reference. Michigan, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Voigts, L. E. and P. Deery Kurtz. 2014. Scientific and medical writings in Old and Middle English: An electronic reference, rev. ed. Available at Voigts-Kurtz Search Program. University of Missouri, Kansas City. (Accessed 10 December 2017)

Wellcome Library. nd. Wellcome Collection. Library Catalogue. (Accessed 3 November 2017)

Zeeman, E. 1956. “Punctuation in an early manuscript of Love’s Mirror”. Review of English Studies 7 (25): 11-18.


Copyright (c) 2019 Teresa Marqués-Aguado

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 1576-6357

EISSN 1695-4300