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A Companion to the Middle English Lyric

A Companion to the Middle English Lyric

Edited by Thomas G. Duncan
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to the Middle English Lyric
    Book Description:

    Winner of a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award The Middle English lyric occupies a place of considerable importance in the history of English literature. Here, for the first time in English, are found many features of formal and thematic importance: they include rhyme scheme, stanzaic form, the carol genre, love poetry in the manner of the troubadour poets, and devotional poems focusing on the love, suffering and compassion of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The essays in this volume aim to provide both background information on and new assessments of the lyric. By treating Middle English lyrics chapter by chapter according to their kinds - poems dealing with love, with religious devotion, with moral, political and popular themes, and those associated with preaching - it provides the awareness of their characteristic cultural contexts and literary modalities necessary for an informed critical reading. Full account is taken of the scholarship upon which our knowledge of these lyrics rests, especially the outstanding contributions of the last few decades and such recent insights as those of gender criticism. Also included are detailed discussions of the valuable information afforded by the widely varying manuscript contexts in which Middle English lyrics survive and of the diverse issues involved in editing these texts. Separate chapters are devoted to the carol, which came to prominence in the fifteenth century, and to Middle Scots lyrics which, at the end of the Middle English lyric tradition, present some sophisticated productions of an entirely new order.BR> Contributors: Julia Boffey, Thomas G. Duncan, John Scattergood, Vincent Gillespie, Christiania Whitehead, Douglas Gray, Karl Reichl, Thorlac Turville-Petre, Alan J. Fletcher, Bernard O'Donoghue, Sarah Stanbury and Alasdair A. MacDonald.THOMAS G. DUNCAN is Honorary Senior Lecturer, School of English, University of St Andrews

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-389-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Editorial Note
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
    Thomas G. Duncan

    In the history of English literature, the emergence of the Middle English lyric is an event of considerable significance on several counts. One is a matter of poetic form. Readers of short poems in English from Chaucer to the present day might be tempted to think that such poems had always been written in stanza form. This, of course, is not the case. Only in early Middle English, less than two centuries before Chaucer, did poems structured in sequences of verse units each having the same number of lines, matching in length and marked out by a scheme of rhymes,...

  7. 1 Middle English Lyrics and Manuscripts
    (pp. 1-18)

    The ways in which Middle English lyrics have survived are multifarious and largely resistant to logical classification: perhaps more than any other kind of medieval text, these poems were recorded unsystematically and often simply accidentally, in contexts which offer to posterity little help in interpreting their contemporary functions or appeal.¹ Short poems in Middle English are recorded on parchment rolls and other documents, in parchment and paper codices of various shape and sizes, in some of the earliest printed books produced in England, as well as in an extraordinary range of further locations. Some of the many different purposes which...

  8. 2 Middle English Lyrics: Metre and Editorial Practice
    (pp. 19-38)

    How are Middle English lyrics to be read? In the Middle Ages many would have been sung: some survive with music. But others (whether originally set to music or not) would have been read, probably read aloud, and, by informed readers at least, with a sense of the movement of the verse – a crucial aspect of lyric form. It is likewise essential that present-day readers should have some understanding of lyric metre if they are to enjoy these poems to the full. More often than not, however, metre is a topic passed over in silence in editions and anthologies of...

  9. 3 The Love Lyric before Chaucer
    (pp. 39-67)

    In the late thirteenth century an anonymous English poet closes his poem on the problematic nature of love with the following lines:

    It is not clear to what ‘song’ the poet refers, but it is obvious that he is conscious that he is writing in what is an already well-established tradition of love poetry. The importance given to the sentiment of what is variously known asfin amor, amour par amour, or in Englishfyn lovynge, however, is notable, particularly since, in the view of most scholars, it was a fairly recent development in European culture, though Peter Dronke has...

  10. 4 Moral and Penitential Lyrics
    (pp. 68-95)

    It is in the nature of preliterate and partially literate societies that their moral values and ethical principles will be encoded in and transmitted by memorial verse. Anglo-Saxon poetry bristles with proverbs and maxims, some perhaps of pre-Christian origin, others refracted from the so-called ‘wisdom’ books of the Old Testament such as Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus and Proverbs, representing the collected aphorisms of another tribal society that had suffered displacement from its homeland. The hortatory tone of poems likeMaxims IandII, Precepts, VaingloryandFates of Menrepeatedly stresses the importance of such proverbs and maxims in providing navigational tools...

  11. 5 Middle English Religious Lyrics
    (pp. 96-119)

    Middle English texts rarely, if ever, exhibit degrees of textual stability and closure similar to literary texts of later periods. Yet, even by this reckoning, the Middle English religious lyrics are a singularly heterogeneous brood. Exemplifying many kinds of composition, from close translation to so-called originality, and serving a vast spectrum of devotional purposes, from doctrinal exposition to quasi-ecstatic fervour, they are also notable for their disconcerting instability of form – appearing with or without music, with or without illustration, with differently ordered stanzas, or with differing numbers of stanzas, in varying manuscript contexts. It is sometimes said, perhaps in a...

  12. 6 Middle English Courtly Lyrics: Chaucer to Henry VIII
    (pp. 120-149)

    The late Middle English courtly lyrics are less well known and less esteemed than their devotional counterparts, and still are often dismissed as flat, conventional, and repetitious.¹ Some are, but many more, when examined closely in their cultural and historical contexts, become much more interesting works, while a number show poetic and imaginative talents of a high order. The adjective ‘courtly’ applied to these poems cannot be defined in an absolute sense. It suggests, rightly, that they are essentially literary works, sometimes selfconsciously so, written by those who belonged to or moved in the world of the ‘court’ – whether of...

  13. 7 The Middle English Carol
    (pp. 150-170)

    John Audelay, ‘blind Audelay’ of Haghmond Abbey in Shropshire, closes one of his poems with the words:

    The poem Audelay terms a carol is addressed to the Welsh saint Winefride, patron saint of Shrewsbury (Audelay’s nearest town), whose intercession the poet implores and some of whose miracles he recounts. This is not the only poem to St Winefride in Audelay’s oeuvre, a collection of over fifty poems in Bodl. MS Douce 302. This manuscript, which dates from the second quarter of the fifteenth century and is roughly contemporary with the poet, provides the main source of information about Audelay.²


  14. 8 Political Lyrics
    (pp. 171-188)

    What is a ‘political lyric’? The two terms need definition in relation to one another, and I shall explore them each in turn. It is worth stating the obvious at the outset, that whatever a lyric may be, it does not include major poems such asWynnere and Wastoure, Langland’s PiersPlowmanand works by Langland’s successors, especiallyMum and the Sothsegger, Gower’s InPraise of Peace, Hoccleve’sRegement of Princes, Lydgate’sFall of Princes, and others which would all figure prominently in any wider account of political poetry in Middle English. Though the lyrics cannot be fully understood except...

  15. 9 The Lyric in the Sermon
    (pp. 189-209)

    This leitmotif that E. M. Forster threaded throughoutA Room with a Viewprovides one of the handiest watchwords that anyone engaging with medieval texts could wish for. Again it comes into its own as we broach the subject of the present chapter and consider an especially productive context for lyric poetry, yet one which simultaneously connected that poetry so organically to a wider set of aims and obligations that poetry’s existence solely as some self-referential, literary event was forbidden: this was a context in which poetry as mere word-game, as literaryjeu de motspaying no more than incidental...

  16. 10 ‘Cuius Contrarium’: Middle English Popular Lyrics
    (pp. 210-226)

    In the most important anthology of the later Middle English secular lyrics, Rossell Hope Robbins’s Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Centuries , the opening category, ‘Popular Songs’, contains a poem headed by Robbins ‘Abuse of Women’ which has the following epigraph as its burden:

    Of all Creatures women be best:

    Cuius contrarium verum est. (Robbins Sec., No. 38)

    It seems strange at first glance to assign this poem in carol form to the ‘popular’ class; not only does its two-line burden contain a line of Latin but, moreover, this is a line which operates here as what Robbins...

  17. 11 Gender and Voice in Middle English Religious Lyrics
    (pp. 227-241)

    In Middle English lyric poetry, most of which is anonymous, only a few fragments and poems can be can be identified as the work of named women poets. One of these is aHymn to Venus, attributed in its single manuscript to ‘Queen Elizabeth’, probably Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV. Another is a hymn to the Virgin described by the scribe John Shirley as being byan holy Ankaresse of Maunsffeld. Yet another is also a poem in praise of the Virgin described in its manuscript as the prayer (oratio) of Eleanor Percy (Barratt 1992, 262–3; 275...

  18. 12 Lyrics in Middle Scots
    (pp. 242-262)

    The medieval vernacular lyric in Scotland exhibits many points of similarity with its English counterpart; this is only to be expected, given the many points of contact in the history of the two countries, the mutual intelligibility of the two languages, and the fact that English and Scottish poets were receptive to the same external cultural influences – from (Anglo-) French and, especially, Latin. Furthermore, the two countries had in common several institutional factors which significantly facilitated literary production: these included a court culture open to influences from France and Burgundy, a church-led educational system, and a network of mendicant houses...

  19. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 263-286)
  20. Index of Manuscripts Cited
    (pp. 287-288)
  21. General Index
    (pp. 289-297)
  22. Index of Lyrics
    (pp. 297-302)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)