Lyric Tactics: Poetry, Genre, and Practice in Later Medieval England

Lyric Tactics: Poetry, Genre, and Practice in Later Medieval England

Lyric Tactics: Poetry, Genre, and Practice in Later Medieval England

Lyric Tactics: Poetry, Genre, and Practice in Later Medieval England

Synopsis

What shall we make of medieval English lyrics? They have no fixed line or meter, no consistent point of view, and their content may seem misaligned with the other texts in manuscripts in which they are found. Yet in Lyric Tactics, Ingrid Nelson argues that the lyric poetry of later medieval England is a distinct genre defined not by its poetic features--rhyme, meter, and stanza forms--but by its modes of writing and performance, which are ad hoc, improvisatory, and situational. Nelson looks at anonymous devotional and love poems that circulated in manuscripts of practical, religious, and literary material or were embedded in popular, courtly, and liturgical works. For her, the poems' abilities to participate in multiple modes of transmission are "lyric tactics," responsive and contingent modes of practice that emerge in opposition to institutional or poetic norms.

Working across the three languages of medieval England (English, French, and Latin), Nelson examines the tactics of poetic voice in the trilingual texts of British Library MS Harley 2253, which contains the well-known English "Harley lyrics." In a study of the English hymns and French lyrics of the commonplace book of William Herebert, she unearths the moral implications of lyric tactics for the friars who produced and disseminated them. And last, she examines the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and shows how his introduction of Continental poetic forms such as the balade and the rondeau suggests continuity with rather than a break from earlier English lyric. Combining literary analysis, manuscript studies, and cultural history with modern social theory, Ingrid Nelson demonstrates that medieval lyric poetry formed a crucial part of the fabric of later medieval English society.

Excerpt

Each of the next two chapters explores how a manuscript compilation draws on and theorizes lyric tactics and demonstrates the ways in which medieval English records of lyrics articulate relations of practice. Because tactics are modes of relation, I examine multiple relationships within these compilations, from the broad compilational logic of the whole manuscript to more local interactions between a text, its page, and its surrounding texts. This approach has a natural affinity with studies of the so-called manuscript matrix, the method of philology that considers the place of individual texts within their books. It also serves to elucidate an insular approach to lyric compilations that distinguishes them from their French counterparts, even as many of these English codices record French texts. Further, like much medieval literature, lyrics had a dual existence as performance and text. Yet where text is durable, persistent, and transtemporal, performance is transient, localized, and only partially documentable. Nonetheless, the marks of performance everywhere inflect written texts. This chapter focuses on how tactical relationships between medieval performative and writing practices shape and are shaped by the lyric and nonlyric texts of one of the most important surviving collections of pre-Chaucerian lyric, British Library MS Harley 2253.

In particular, I explore how these texts represent and theorize voice, a feature of lyric that illuminates the tactical relationships between the performative and the textual. Voice is central to lyric, which is frequently characterized by modern critics as an “utterance,” yet medieval lyrics use voice in ways that confound post-Romantic models of the genre. While many of these poems do present a single lyric “I” that represents, in the words of Rosemary Woolf, “one-half of a dialogue” with an absent interlocutor, others thematize . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.