Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'I Have a Young Suster': Popular Song and the Middle English Lyric

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'I Have a Young Suster': Popular Song and the Middle English Lyric

Article excerpt

Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, 'I have a young suster': Popular Song and the Middle English Lyric (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002). 269 pp. ISBN 1-85182-627-0. L47.50.

This book explores the complex relationships between lyrics and other medieval forms in an effort to determine the extent of popular, 'folk' involvement in their creation and transmission. It attempts at the same time to analyse the appeal of a number of shorter Middle English poems for both modern and medieval readers, and to assess the cultural specificity of certain of their distinctive features. Its chronological span extends from 'Svmer is icumen in' and the lyrics of Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson D.913 to the carol collections of the fifteenth century and to the earliest printed ballads.

A generous range of texts is discussed, with admirable flexibility in relation to the generic boundaries which are so often unprofitably invoked in the study of medieval lyrics and other shorter forms. Discussion is in part organized around particular manuscripts rather than individual poems, sensibly enough for a work which addresses transmission and reception, and attention is drawn to the instability characteristic of many short medieval texts. In the light of this it seems strange that the many close analyses of individual poems take little or no account of the detail of original manuscript or printed forms and contexts, and that the structural models that these analyses follow - although supposedly conceived to highlight cultural specificity - should in essence hinge on little more than the identification of repeated patterns.

The longer narrative poems which figure here are admittedly treated somewhat differently (if with the same superficiality in relation to textual matters). Robin Hood poems, comic ballads such as The King and the Barker, prophecies and tales of enchantment, and historical ballads like The Battle of Otterburn are scrutinized (and often quoted at enormous length) in order to compare the 'actantial roles' of main characters and to assess what might set medieval ballads apart from later ones. …

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