Academic journal article Folklore

A. L. Lloyd and Reynardine: Authenticity and Authorship in the Afterlife of a British Broadside Ballad

Academic journal article Folklore

A. L. Lloyd and Reynardine: Authenticity and Authorship in the Afterlife of a British Broadside Ballad

Article excerpt


This paper presents new evidence concerning the broadside ballad "Reynardine," which became popular in the British folksong revival movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that the revival versions of this ballad were not products of the folk tradition, but rather descendants of a text authored by A. L. Lloyd, who was both a singer and a folksong scholar. The paper goes on to suggest reasons why Lloyd might have authored the ballad, and reasons why he might have concealed that authorship, placing its evidence and observations in the context of folkloristic concerns about authenticity and authorship, folklore and fakelore.


In Regina Bendix's foundational study of the concept of authenticity in folklore studies, she points out a remarkable semantic reversal. "Authentic derives from the Greek 'Authentes,'" she tells us, "which carries the dual meaning of 'one who acts with authority' and 'made by one's own hand'" (Bendix 1997, 14). Yet, "authentic" in folklore has usually meant the opposite: that which is made by no discernable hand, imbued with no individual's authority, because it has been re-made by the forces of impersonal tradition (Bendix 1997, 15). While "authentic" and "author" share an etymological root, authorial practices are usually taken to produce inauthentic folklore; Richard Dorson famously coined the word "fakelore" for materials created by authors and passed off as products of folk tradition (Dorson 1969).

Since Dorson, folklorists have undermined the dichotomy of folk versus fake, especially in the context of music revivals. In the 1960s and 1970s, many scholars were attracted to folklore through the folksong revival. This helped to change folkloristic notions of authenticity. Sheldon Posen, writing in 1976, pointed out that the folk revival was itself a social context in which performances could be considered authentic, if one adhered to its "norms, rules and values." Within this community, he noted, even songs sung in fake English accents were authentic, because singers were expected to sing them that way. Nothing, in other words, is "inauthentic," except perhaps the most flagrant dishonesty (Posen 1993, 135).

In the past twenty years, following the volume by Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983), "the invention of tradition" has become a central concern in the study of culture. Folk music revivals, as Nell Rosenberg points out, do not so much invent traditions as transform them (Rosenberg 1993, 20), but the result is similar: people claim that expressive behaviours are old, when they are really quite new. Aesthetics, musical practices, and individual songs and tunes are transformed by revivalist forces. The extent to which they remain "authentic" may vary with the observer's theoretical outlook. Many would see ballads authored by revivalist singers as less authentic than those collected from oral tradition, others would locate their authenticity in their connection to their respective communities, while still others would reject the notion of authenticity entirely.

Bendix suggests that folklore's historical orientation toward separating the authentic from the inauthentic is counterproductive in that it marginalises the discipline of folklore while it essentialises folklore materials as vestiges of a vanishing past. Yet, she suggests, "we can study the negotiation of authenticity once we cease to be a negotiating party, or once we admit to our participation in the negotiating process" (Bendix 1997, 23). In this theoretical context, the resurrection of the English ballad "Reynardine" (Roud 1994b, 397) in the English folk revival takes on considerable interest. Indeed, the creation, packaging and dissemination of the revival "Reynardine" can be seen as just such a process: a negotiation between authenticity and authorship.

Reynardine in British Tradition and British Revival

In "Reynardine," a young woman meets a stranger in the mountains and is ensnared by his animal magnetism. …

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