Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A New Middle English Carol

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A New Middle English Carol

Article excerpt

Since the publication of Greene's revised standard edition of the Middle English carol corpus1 a handful of new ones have come to light.2 There is, however, among the medieval materials in the collection of Professor T. Takamiya in Tokyo, another unrecorded carol. It appears on the blank, but water-stained, verso of the final leaf (sig. [EE viii]) of an incunable Latin Bible, printed at Speier by Peter Drach in 1489 (Goff B-587),3 in a wellformed hand of the late fifteenth century.4 The text is printed below. In transcribing it editorial intervention has been kept to a minimum; neither punctuation nor capitalization has been added; the few contractions that appear have been expanded and italicized. Stanza numbers have been added for ease of reference.

This appears to be a previously unknown Nativity carol, a form that became particularly popular during the fifteenth century.13 Eighty-four of these are distinguished by Greene in his standard edition (I 3-96), some with distinct variants. In most respects this new carol is quite conventional. It is constructed out of a number of occasional biblical commonplaces which can usually be paralleled frequently in the corpus, as our notes suggest.

In one important respect, however, this carol does seem without precedent: its use of the term 'Chorus', which has both lexical and formal implications. The burden is here regularly distinguished by this characterization, one that has no parallel in Middle English usage. 'Chorus' is not recorded in Middle English in the sense of a refrain or burden;14 and its use here significantly antedates the earliest usage in this sense in OED, which is for 15 99.15 The Takamiya carol makes a significant contribution, therefore, to our understanding of the formal consciousness of the functionality of the burden, which clearly existed at a much earlier date than has previously been appreciated.

[Footnote]

NOTES

[Footnote]

We are indebted to Dr Julia Boffey for advice and comment.

' The Early English Carols, ed. R. L. Greene, znd edn (Oxford, 1977); Parenthetical arabic numbers are to separate carols in this edition; square brackets indicate stanzas, following his practice. …

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