A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

Popular Ballads, which remains the most comprehensive compilation of folk song from all periods. Organized roughly according to date but without any attempt at critical analysis and using the most arbitrary of selection criteria, Child–s work is nonetheless a monumental achievement for students of folk song and popular culture. However, early critical studies continued very much in the same vein as those of the antiquarians, considering balladry as a popular, debased form, a poor imitation of courtly literature. Attempts to connect it to the epic tradition as a natural development also conclude that it was a kind of evolutionary dead end, rendered unnecessary by near-universal literacy. Popular culture not having yet been recognized as important to students of the arts and humanities, early critics dismissed the survival of the tradition as unimportant and continued in the view of the genre as crude, inexpert poetry of an unimportant class, imitative and derivative, without value as true literature. Finally, in the 1950s M.J.C. Hodgart produced the first serious study of medieval balladry. Recognizing that the ballad folk inhabited, and portrayed in their poetry, a very different, darker, more cynical universe than their social betters, and that such a universe precipitated a different value system, Hodgart also admitted that certain examples of the genre had moments of artistry. Nonetheless, he continued to assume that the ballads of chivalry and romance, in particular, were bad courtly imitations, and to judge their artistic merit by the standards of mainstream medieval literature, concluding that in general the balladeers were bad poets. Arthur K. Moore, in his article “The Literary Status of the English Popular Ballad,” attempted to invalidate this latter conclusion, examining intricate imagery and symbolism in the medieval corpus. Unfortunately, no significant work, other than source studies, appeared after Moore–s defense until the 1990s, when Gwendolyn Morgan produced two books and a number of articles defending the ballads as true popular culture, with a consistent and coherent world view expressed effectively through competent poetic craft. The ballad today remains a neglected area of study, although its significance is slowly growing as the importance of popular-culture and social-history studies increases. As an art form, the ballad is enjoying yet another revival, particularly in the area of popular country and western music, cowboy poetry, and literary parody. In other words, balladry has come full circle, returning to the social classes and purposes whence it sprung.


SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. The Spectator. Ed. George A. Aitken. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1898.

Buchan, David. The Ballad and the Folk. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.

Child, Francis, ed. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. 5 vols. Boston: 1882– 1898.

Defoe, Daniel. “The Ballad Maker–s Plea” (1722). Daniel Defoe: His Life and Recently Discovered Writings. Ed. William Lee. New York: Franklin, 1969. 3: 59.

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A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Old English and Anglo-Norman Literature 1
  • Selected Bibliography 23
  • 2 - Religious and Allegorical Verse 26
  • 3 - Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English 37
  • Selected Bibliography 48
  • 4 - Balladry 50
  • Selected Bibliography 66
  • 5 - The Beast Fable 69
  • Selected Bibliography 84
  • 6 - Breton Lay 86
  • 7 - Chronicle 98
  • 8 - Debate Poetry 118
  • Selected Bibliography 152
  • 9 - Medieval English Drama 154
  • 10 - Dream Vision 178
  • Selected Bibliography 196
  • 11 - Epic and Heroic Poetry 210
  • 12 - The Epic Genre and Medieval Epics 230
  • Selected Bibliography 253
  • 13 - The Fabliau 255
  • 14 - Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature 277
  • Selected Bibliography 294
  • 15 - Lyric Poetry 299
  • 16 - The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque 315
  • Selected Bibliography 333
  • 17 - Riddles 336
  • 18 - Romance 352
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • 19 - Visions of the Afterlife 376
  • Selected Bibliography 394
  • Selected Bibliography 399
  • Index 425
  • About the Editors and Contributors 431
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