Academic journal article Medium Aevum

An Unpublished Fifteenth-Century Carol Collection: Oxford, Lincoln College Ms Lat. 141

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

An Unpublished Fifteenth-Century Carol Collection: Oxford, Lincoln College Ms Lat. 141

Article excerpt

qMedium Essay Prize 2008

The fifteenth century is the first period from which substantial numbers of vernacular English songs survive, in both notated and un-notated manuscripts, together testifying to a vigorous written tradition. Many of these texts are in carol form: regular stanzas with a refrain section written at the head of the song.1 Such carols were often written singly on flyleaves or in margins, but hundreds were gathered together in anthologies.2 The short collection of English songs that fills the first quire of Oxford, Lincoln College MS Lat. 141 (hereafter, Lincoln Lat. 141) belongs within this corpus.

The manuscript is a composite book put together around 1600 and the first quire contains a collection of song texts written in a late fifteenth-century hand. The quire is imperfect at the beginning, and now holds nine full texts and further fragments. The final two texts were edited by Edward Wilson in 1980, but the others remain unpublished.3 The New Index of Middle English Verse lists only the two carols edited by Wilson and one other, a version of a carol extant elsewhere.4 This article seeks to present and explore this previously overlooked material. It will begin with a description of the fifteenth-century part of the manuscript, then provide edited texts of the unpublished verses, and lasdy will analyse the group and examine their relation to other carol collections.

As in numerous better-known manuscripts containing carols, the texts in Lincoln Lat. 141 appear to be gathered together according to coherent principles. The agreement between manuscript organization and the generic terminology used today appears promising for the purposes of the now wellestablished critical approach of exploring Middle English lyrics within their manuscript contexts, exemplified in work by Julia Boffey and Susanna Fein among others.5 The Lincoln carols illustrate the circulation of un-notated song in short sequences, possibly making up cheap, easily distributed booklets. This method of writing and distribution is especially significant to the development of vernacular short verse before print, and can be traced through the networks formed by textual connections in extant manuscripts. Dialect studies have tentatively associated Lincoln Lat. 141 with Norfolk, and several other fifteenthcentury carol manuscripts are also associated with the region. These texts can potentially contribute towards a 'literary geography', an idea explored by Richard Beadle with particular reference to late medieval Norfolk.6 Surviving manuscripts provide this collection with a rich context of vernacular song production, developed, written, and shared within a range of formats.

The texts, six of which are macaronic, also illustrate the role of the liturgy in development of English verse. As an important source of shared song and narrative, directly linked with communal celebrations through the year, liturgy was intimately connected with vernacular festive songs, of which carols are the most successful type in this period. In emphasizing the centrality of liturgy to medieval cultural production, Bruce Holsinger has recently raised a series of challenging questions for literary studies in the period: 'What modes of convergence and mutuality affiliate the liturgical and the literary? . . . More radically, perhaps, in what sense might literature be seen as in part an effect of liturgy, a curious by-product of the immense cultural industry invested in the Word of God by the institutions that performed it?'7 As festive songs that could also be read, carols such as those contained in Lincoln Lat. 141 occupy an uncertain territory between the liturgical and the literary, making them especially pertinent to this area of research. The final section of this article will examine the ways in which the liturgical content of the texts is developed by the vernacular verse and how this interaction contributes to the texts' construction as group song. …

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.