This is the image of a wax seal (reproduction) used by Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, to counterseal documents. The seal is formed by dropping a blob of wax ("bolus") on the document and pressing a carved stone or metal "matrix" into it. Often, the matrix was carried as a "seal ring" and it might be carved in silver, gold, or precious stones. Few matrices have survived from this era. Becket's archbishop's seal would be uppermost upon the bolus and the counterseal would be on the other side. Or it might exist as a separate seal, indicating that he had, himself, attached it, rather than assigning authority for using the archbishop's seal to a scribe. Thus, this seal authenticates another seal which in turn authenticates the document. (And this computer-enhanced copy of the original seal is, itself, once more removed from the original matrix by digital reproduction.)
How does the idea of a seal which warrants authenticity play upon the notion that the seal "stands for Thomas," the man, even as his archbishop's seal would have "stood for" Thomas, the bishop? How does it relate to authorial signatures on documents? Especially, in the context of semi-anonymous or entirely anonymous courtly poems in manuscript circulation, how does it relate to the various coded signs present in the poem which might be used to construct the identity of the author? How does the image on this seal and its Latin motto play with the idea of its function?
Students writing papers or preparing for exams could make use of the "sealing" function of signatures, autograph hands, and gestures (like kisses of benediction) as representations of the self and the self's intentions, sometimes acting in the absence of the self (including a remembered kiss once thought to signify loyalty but now a symbol of its opposite--see Wyatt's "They Flee From Me"!). The oath-breakers of "Battle of Maldon" have figuratively fractured the words they spoke to Byrtnoth when they pledged loyal service in return for the weapons, horses, gold, and food he gave them. Even in the earliest era of literacy's first migration to the non-clergy and non-professionals in 1475-1650, we can see plots that turn on letters and the recognition of the author's hand (Lear's subplot and main plot), documents discovered (Volpone's subplot and main plot), and the struggle for authorized knowledge found in books or in objects whose "consumption" operates like reading a book (Marlowe's Faustus, Lanyer's and Milton's versions of the Fall). As literacy becomes more common in England and American, reaching wide class and gender distribution in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, look for a multiplication of plots that involve forgery, impersonation, and discovery of impostures. Self-referential texts, which directly address readers on the subject of their own creation, and autobiographical texts which write the authors' histories by selectively representing portions of their lives, attempt to control readers' interpretation of their very words as objects whose reception "seals" a version of the self within the text (Behn's Oroonoko and Margery Kempe's book, as well as the captivity narratives of the American continent). The "sealing" moment comes when the narrator invokes some form of the expression "you can take my word for it." The word is the seal, and the seal stands for the self.