The Verse Forms of Middle English Romance

Research project key facts
Project title The Verse Forms of Middle English Romance
School Humanities
Department English
Dates 01/04/2010 - 30/04/2014
Funder AHRC
Contact Professor Ad Putter

More about this project

Before the fifteenth century, Middle English writers wrote stories in verse. The three broad streams of narrative verse in medieval England are the poetry of Chaucer and his followers, alliterative verse, and the metrical romances. The oldest of these, King Horn (c1220) immediately exposes our ignorance about the kind of verse the poet of Middle English romance thought they were writing. The Horn poet's rhyme range was evidently wider than that of poets such as Chaucer and Gower, and his prosody remains the subject of controversy: were his verses short couplet lines in alternating three-beat rhythm or more like the half-lines of alliterative poetry? A number of romances composed after Horn give rise to similar problems of scansion and versification. Sir Tristrem, from the later thirteenth century, was written in an unusual 11-line bob-and-wheel stanza that has seemed to some parodic and to others lyrical. To judge which of these views is the correct one, we would need to know which other poems (in English, Anglo-Norman and Latin) used the form. Two stanzaic patterns recur regularly in Sir Tristrem but a third pattern is only attested in just two stanzas: are these anomalous stanzas due to scribal invovement or are they authorial? This project addresses these and other questions by investigating the particular metrical systems that obtained in the Middle English romances, and it explores their textual and literary history to answer the question of what their verse forms meant to poets, scribes, and audiences.

People involved in this project

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