A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

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

16

The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque

Keith P. Taylor

During the final decades of the fourteenth century three poems appeared that scholars perpetually have considered to be among the finest examples of the romance genre ever to have been composed in English. Two of these—“The Knight–s Tale” (c. 1380) and Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1385)—belong to Chaucer; the third is the anonymous alliterative masterpiece Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1390–1400). But at virtually the same moment that the romance tradition reaches its apex in England, we see the rise of a body of poetry that gently—and humorously—takes the romance tradition to task. Though much poetry of this type, to which we refer collectively as Middle English “parody/burlesque” literature, is preserved in manuscripts dating from the very end of the fourteenth century through the middle of the fifteenth century, we should not take this fact to indicate that poetry of this sort did not exist in England—or in English—prior to that time. The parody is, after all, among the oldest of the literary genres. It exists almost by convention wherever there is a vogue to be burlesqued. If we take tradition to be our guide, then the sheer volume of romance literature produced in England from the time of the Norman Conquest until the end of the fourteenth century ought to suggest that any number of poems parodying this tradition once circulated throughout the island via the oral tradition, only to vanish without ever having had the good fortune simply to have been written down.

It is not at all difficult to account for the virtual absence of English parody/ burlesque literature in manuscripts prior to the end of the fourteenth century, particularly when we consider that for several centuries following the Norman Conquest, the readership of England was comprised almost exclusively of persons who did not regularly speak English. Given this state of affairs, it is hardly surprising that virtually all of the parodic literature that has survived in pre-

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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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