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Performance and the Middle English Romance

Performance and the Middle English Romance

Linda Marie Zaerr
Volume: 17
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Performance and the Middle English Romance
    Book Description:

    Although English medieval minstrels performed 'gestes', a genre closely related to romance, often playing the harp or the fiddle, the question of if, and how, Middle English romance was performed has been hotly debated. Here, the performance tradition is explored by combining textual, historical and musicological scholarship with practical experience from a noted musician. Using previously unrecognised evidence, the author reconstructs a realistic model of minstrel performance, showing how a simple melody can interact with the text, and vice versa. She argues that elements in Middle English romance which may seem simplistic or repetitive may in fact be incomplete, as missing an integral musical dimension; metrical irregularities, for example, may be relics of sophisticated rhythmic variation that make sense only with music. Overall, the study offers both a more accurate comprehension of minstrel performance, and a deeper appreciation of the romances themselves. Linda Marie Zaerr is Professor of Medieval Studies at Boise State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-022-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Musical Examples
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    The Middle English romances create a performance context for themselves, and the use of modern historical performance can provide a tool to explore and inform theories that have until now been based largely on examination of texts. Much has been done in the last three decades to understand the manuscript tradition of English medieval romances more fully and to acknowledge its textuality; however, the minstrel tradition of the romances, because it is more elusive, has been largely ignored. Yet evidence does exist that offers a realistic and grounded understanding of minstrel performance of narrative. The object of this book is...

  7. 1 Continental Traditions of Narrative Performance
    (pp. 26-51)

    The Middle English romances do not stand in isolation; they participate in a shared entertainment tradition with French and Germanic works, both Insular and Continental. This broader European context illuminates references to music and minstrels in England, filling in gaps, clarifying distinctions, and rectifying interpretations. English terminology surrounding performers and performance follows patterns evident throughout Europe; the flexible descriptions of performers, the lack of distinction between drama and narrative, and the ubiquitous involvement of music in the culture indicate ways of conceiving of performance very different from our own. Within this understanding, the involvement of music in narrative and the...

  8. 2 The English Minstrel in History and Romance
    (pp. 52-77)

    Four categories of evidence survive concerning minstrels in late medieval England: historical documents, visual images and artefacts, notated music, and references in literary works, primarily the romances. No category provides as much information as we might wish, and all are susceptible to misinterpretation. Iconography is most useful in delineating musical instruments, which we will leave for future chapters. Similarly, detailed discussion of music manuscripts will be meaningful only after an understanding of narrative performance has been developed. This leaves two categories to consider. Historical documents and literary depictions, taken together, establish a complex and plausible model for minstrel performance of...

  9. 3 Musical Instruments and Narrative
    (pp. 78-104)

    Taken as a whole, the Middle English verse romances associate themselves with instrumental music at a fundamental level, and information about instruments can extend our understanding of romance by delineating how music could have interacted with a text. The Middle English romances confirm traditional associations of plucked and bowed stringed instruments with narrative performance, suggesting strongest support for the harp and the fiddle, and to a lesser degree the lute. Remarkably detailed information on the medieval fiddle survives, and from a careful consideration of fiddle construction and tuning, we may derive principles of narrative accompaniment that can reasonably extend to...

  10. 4 Metre, Accent, and Rhythm
    (pp. 105-140)

    Complicated patterns dance through Middle English verse, rhythms so flexible they appear ‘deregulated’.¹ The following discussion draws on music theory to explicate both characteristics of this rhythmic complexity and principles that govern it. By distinguishing categories of accent and articulating how different types of accent establish simultaneous rhythms in the text itself, we may come to appreciate and understand choices that might otherwise be dismissed as ‘scribal corruption’.

    This approach, grounded in music theory, is more clearly justified when we consider the intimate connection between verse and music in the development of rhythm in medieval Europe and the integral involvement...

  11. 5 Music and the Middle English Romance
    (pp. 141-172)

    Where a scholar asks, ‘Were the Middle English romances performed by minstrels?’ a performer asks, ‘How could they have been performed?’ The questions are different, but both scholar and performer work toward answers by drawing on available documents from the past. Both try to put aside modern perspectives as they construct understanding from evidence that is incomplete, complex, and ambiguous. Historical performance cannot uncover information that is not available in the documents scrutinized by scholars; it can, however, point out connections a scholar might miss. A performer is forced to summon together wide ranging information about instruments, vocal delivery, texts,...

  12. 6 Conclusions
    (pp. 173-180)

    Mylsone the harper, trying to ignore the smell of roasting meat at an Easter feast, squeezes between two trumpeters, shoving the fiddler Adam Boyd in front of him. Mylsone jokes with the feasters about their rich basins and platters and goblets, and then he and Adam sing how Floripas flung feasting vessels made of gold and silver over the wall to distract attackers. A very young lady throws her goblet across the table, giggling with a friend as it clatters on the floor.¹

    A ‘brokin bakkit’ (broken backed) fiddler in the Church of St Andrew plays a brief melody for...

  13. Appendix A Minstrel References in the Middle English Verse Romances
    (pp. 181-233)
  14. Appendix B Medieval Fiddle Tuning and Implications for Narrative Performance
    (pp. 234-252)
  15. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 253-256)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-285)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 286-287)