Category Archives: late Middle English

What I shall choose,
I know not

I have been chasing up various references to poetic terminology in a little anthology from 1953 called Cambridge Middle English Lyrics, edited by Henry A Person.   One of the poems is not very well known, because (as far as I can tell) it has only been printed once in this rather obscure little book.  But it deserves to be a little better known, because it is a very entertaining account of the difficulty of choosing a career in the fifteenth century, and of the sort of mind who is better at seeing difficulties than seeing possibilities.

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What a printer said to a manuscript…

I’m still exploring the envoy (or lenvoy in Middle English), a section of dedication, epilogue, parting words or direct address added to a text.  As well as envoys written by poets to their own poems, and by readers to someone else’s poem, I’ve also been reading envoys added by printers to late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century printed books. There are many more short poems added to early printed books than I had realised, and they are a great source of terms for my poetics glossary. One of the best writers of an envoy was the printer Robert Copland.

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The Techne of Verse-Making: Poetry’s Termes in Middle English

Tomorrow I’m off to London to attend the Biennial London Chaucer Conference.  I’m speaking on Saturday morning in a session on ‘Literary Technologies’.  The title of my short paper is ‘The Techne of Verse-Making: Poetry’s Termes in Middle English’.  It discusses verse-technology and verse-terminology in fourteenth and fifteenth century English poetry, looking especially at balades and lenvoys.  I look at the ‘Lenvoy de Chaucer’ at the end of the Clerk‘s Tale, at Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, and at The Kingis Quair.

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Go weep with Proserpina…

I’ve been exploring the lenvoye this week, both as a form and as a technical term.  In medieval French poetry, an envoi is the final stanza of a ballade in which the poem is sent on its way to its audience or addressee.  It’s borrowed into late medieval English poetry by Chaucer, and the lenvoye quickly becomes several different things at once.  It can be part of a poem in which an author speaks directly to his audience (in contrast to the narrative subjectivity so well described by A C Spearing).  It can be a final section of a poem, more elaborate in form than that which precedes it.  It can be a place for the  author to speak to or about the work as a whole, offering a commentary or conclusion.

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Good and Bad Stanzas

Some medieval English playwrights use different types of stanza for different types of characters.  In the fifteenth-century morality play Mankind, the personification Mercy begins the play speaking in stanzas which are often called octaves, rhyming ababbcbc (also sometimes called eight-line ballade stanzas, or Monk’s Tale stanzas following their use by Chaucer).  This stanza form is often used for moral or educational writing in later Middle English poetry.  This is a good fit for Mercy’s character, as he begins the play in priestly guise, reminding the audience to persevere in good works and to avoid sin.

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Making happy stanzas

My last post looked at characters sharing lines and stanzas in Middle English cycle plays.  These shared lines and stanzas were sometimes ominous or implicative, showing how characters are drawn into evil or collaborate in cruelty.  But joining together in the construction of a stanza can also signal joy and celebration in these plays. This post shows you some of these spectacular collaborative stanzas in Middle English drama.

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The Forms of Middle English Drama

Must look at the drama, must look at the drama.  That’s been running through my head and scribbled down in notebooks for as long as I have been working on this poetics project.  Drama in medieval England was drama in verse, so it has the potential to be a great source for my book.  But I have been very surprised by how purposeful and subtle the use of form is, especially to emphasise key moments in the action.  This post (the first of several on form in medieval English drama) shows some of the effects playwrights create with stanzas and rhyme.  This is perhaps very obvious to people who research and teach a lot of medieval drama, but it is new and fascinating to me.

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Larks and Quails

Today is ‘Whan That Aprille Day’, a celebration of ‘oold bokes yn sondrye oold tonges’ and languages which are Old, or Middle, or Ancient, or Dead.  I’d like to celebrate Charles of Valois, duke of Orleans, who wrote first in one language, French, and then another, English (and later still had his French poems translated into Latin).  Charles was taken prisoner at Agincourt in 1415 and was then held captive in England for twenty-five years.  During this time he translated some of his French poetry into English, and then wrote more English poetry, creating a long work (edited by Mary-Jo Arn as Fortunes Stabilnes) which combines lyric sequences and narrative sections.

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Being Miserable, Fifteenth-Century Style

Feeling blue or winter-sad?  Then this fifteenth-century poem is for you (scroll down for text, slightly modernised, and a translation).  It’s a hidden gem, I think, not widely anthologised.  It was written by a man named Henry Baradon (about whom we know very little) at the very end of the fifteenth century.  Baradon seems to have been an amateur poet, adding this poem to Manchester, John Rylands Library MS Eng. 113, and some short verses to a manuscript of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis (Princeton UL MS Taylor 5).  You can see the poem in its manuscript context here.

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