Edwin Duncan

title.none: M. J. Toswell, ed., Prosody and Poetics in the Early Middle Ages

identifier.other: baj9928.9602.001 96.02.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Edwin Duncan, Towson State University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Toswell, M. J., ed. Prosody and Poetics in the Early Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of C. B. Hieatt. Toronto \ Buffalo \ London: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Pp. x, 225. $65.00 (cloth) (US) \ £42.00 (cloth) (UK) \ $73.00 (cloth) (Europe). ISBN: ISBN 0-8020-0653-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.02.01

Toswell, M. J., ed. Prosody and Poetics in the Early Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of C. B. Hieatt. Toronto \ Buffalo \ London: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Pp. x, 225. $65.00 (cloth) (US) \ £42.00 (cloth) (UK) \ $73.00 (cloth) (Europe). ISBN: ISBN 0-8020-0653-1.

Reviewed by:

Edwin Duncan
Towson State University

This volume is a collection of articles, most of which are revisions of papers delivered at the March 1993 conference in honor of well-known medievalist Connie Hieatt. The foreword is by James M. Good and the Introduction by M. J. Toswell. Aside from one essay on the Hamthismal, all the articles are studies of Old and Middle English poems--with seven of the twelve on prosodic subjects, two on translation and the oral tradition, one on the OE koine, one on direct speeches, and one on heroic language. Analytic approaches range from traditional text analysis and metrics to computer analysis, pragmatics, and intonational theory. As the title suggests, the book will appeal to everyone interested in early English poetics but will be of particular interest to versification specialists since most of the recent trends in that field are at least touched upon here.

Thomas Cable's "Grammar, Spelling, and the Rhythm of the Alliterative Long Line" is a reiteration of the principles he earlier established in The English Alliterative Tradition regarding pronunciation of final -e in fourteenth-century alliterative verse. Arguing that pronunciation of final -e must not be determined by scribal spellings in the manuscripts, which are unreliable, but by noting the historical gender (in nouns), number, and grammatical function of the word in question, Cable distinguishes his method of determination from that of Hoyt Duggan and others who assume the primacy of the manuscripts and who therefore get different results. Cable supports his assertions by examining a familiar passage from Gawain and the Green Knight (ll. 740-9). He considers every word with a possible -e ending and then deduces from the word's structure and grammatical function whether the -e fits. Finally, he shows that the assignments of -e by this method reinforce his formulations concerning allowable metrical structures for the first and second half-lines of ME alliterative verse.

In "The Battle of Maldon and Beowulfian Prosody" Robert Payson Creed applies his previously established prosodic system (from Reconstructing the Rhythm of Beowulf) to a datably later poem, Maldon, with the goal of reconstructing an authentic performance of that poem. He finds Maldon essentially the same in prosodic structure as Beowulf and Caedmon's Hymn, counting only eleven exceptions in Maldon to his definition of the "classic" OE verse line. He concludes that the poem's composer not only knew the oral tradition well but was also a virtuoso of its style. While his identification of the problematic lines is not novel (most, if not all, have been discussed in previous prosodic discussions of Maldon), Creed does offer a detailed analysis of each, and his focus on performance provides an alternate perspective on the nature of these lines' deviation from the norm as well as useful suggestions about their proper handling in oral delivery. Performance is also central to John Miles Foley's understanding of Andreas in "The Poet's Self-Interruption in Andreas." In this comparative study Foley demonstrates that the poem, despite its Greek origins (and probable Latin exemplar), exhibits the traditional oral characteristics of OE verse, a result of its translator's conscious adaptation of the narrative to suit the needs of the audience. In fact, Foley concludes that the reason for the poet's self-interruption in the latter part of the poem--and his call for someone more learned to complete the translation--stems from his inability to syncretize the events of the upcoming episode into the traditional poetic register of Old English. Foley argues that the commonly assumed written-oral dichotomy in Old English literature is inappropriate here and not as useful as assuming that the traditional oral elements in Andreas were instead put there to establish a mythic context for better reception by the Anglo-Saxons.

In "Alliterative Licence and the Rhetorical Use of Proper Names in The Battle of Maldon," M. S. Griffith argues that alliteratively irregular verses in Maldon were apparently acceptable in cases where proper nouns were used--and that in these cases they do not betray poetic incompetence but artistry and rhetorical effect. Griffith's assignment of onomastic meanings to the names of the poem's warriors is also generally successful but not as compelling as the prosodic argument primarily because the qualities suggested by the names of the cowards Godric, Godwine, and Godwig don't correspond to their actions and must thus be interpreted as examples of irony. Still, the assertion that the name Byrhtwold intentionally echoes Byrhtnoth is plausible since these warriors' similar names are matched by similarities in their character, age, and resolve.

In "Simplifying Resolution in Beowulf," James Keddie takes on the thorny problem of resolution and suspension of resolution in Old English versification. His explanations involve acceptance of his system of classification, which adds to Sievers' five basic types a sixth, type F (x x / /), the logical completion of the possible patterns (when two stressed and two unstressed positions are arranged in all possible configurations). The most common realizations of type F occur in those verses commonly referred to as A3b (x x../ \), where Keddie assigns major stress to the second element of the verse-ending compound, and C2 (x../ / x), where he resolves the final, short stressed syllable with the following unstressed one to form a single position. His overall conclusions concerning resolution are that it applies only in positions of primary metrical stress and that it is mandatory unless its application results in a verse pattern of only three positions.

O. D. Macrae-Gibson and J. R. Lishman's "Computer Assistance in the Analysis of Old English Metre: Methods and Results -- A Provisional Report" presents the results of an attempt by the authors to set up and run a computer analysis of several OE poems to ascertain which were composed by Cynewulf. Incorporating into their program a modified version of A. J. Bliss's system of scansion as well as such additional features as syntactic breaks and parts of speech of stressed elements, the authors examine the verse structures of several poems, comparing various categories and attempting to determine statistically whether metrical differences between the poems are significant. Results are mixed --as when significant differences detected between Juliana and Elene on the one hand and Christ II on the other cause the authors to consider the former two poems "core Cynewulfian" but not the latter, even though all bear Cynewulf's signature. The authors thus feel that though the project has potential, refinements are necessary before results can be relied upon.

In "The Case against a `General Old English Poetic Dialect'" David Megginson questions the common assumption that the presence of Anglian spellings in OE poetic manuscripts confirms the existence of an OE poetic koine. Part of the problem is that some scholars have misinterpreted Kenneth Sisam's "Dialect Origins of the Earlier OE Verse" (1953) while others have extended its findings into areas not specified by Sisam, particularly the orthographical idiosyncrasies of scribes. Megginson argues that if orthography revealed a commonly accepted koine, then one would expect to find scribal consistency in its use--but this is not the case. As an example, he cites the Junius Manuscript's consistent use of Anglian 'aldor' and West Saxon 'ylde' as opposed to the Exeter Book's West Saxon 'ealdor' and Anglian 'aelde'. He concludes that the assumption of an OE koine cannot be used to explain Anglian spellings and that "as far as orthography is concerned, there was no `general Old English poetic dialect.'"

In "The Intonational Basis of La3amon's Verse" Douglas Moffat draws upon modern phonological theory, specifically the assumption that the base intonation pattern of European language utterances is A. Cohen and J. T'Hart's "Hat Pattern" (with its stress/intonation contour of low, high, higher, low), which Moffat uses to support his belief that the intonation in La3amon's Brutis fundamentally unlike that of the classic initially-prominent Old English verse. Moffat also suggests that the increasing use of rhyme in early Middle English verse is a natural outcome of Aelfric's intonational shift to a more prosaic contour in his rhythmic prose. The rightward movement of this shift in stress and intonation initially resulted in an increase in postponed alliteration, and ultimately it led to an acceptance of rhyme with its corresponding shift in prominence toward the end of the verse.

Geoffrey Russom's "Constraints on Resolution in Beowulf explores the contexts in which short, stressed syllables combine with following unstressed syllables to create resolved sequences. Russom finds them much more likely to do so in positions of greater metrical and linguistic prominence. Thus, the most likely candidates for resolution are short alliterating syllables occurring initially in the first half-line; less likely are those in compounds and the second stressed positions of verses; and not resolving at all are the short syllables in unstressed positions. Using this metrical and phonological hierarchy, Russom establishes guidelines for predicting the likelihood of resolution in various contexts and in so doing provides explanations for the rarity of resolved second stresses in type C verses, of subordinated compound elements in type B, and of short secondary constituents in type E. His findings also suggest that short medial syllables in verb forms like swethrian and bealdode were unstressed both metrically and linguistically.

Like John Miles Foley's essay earlier in the volume, Brian Shaw's "Translation and Transformation in Andreas" is an examination of the Andreas poet's translation and skillful adaptation of a literate Latin narrative into an Old English poem more suited to a Germanic audience steeped in a rich oral tradition. This tradition, Shaw explains, assumed the power of the spoken word, and in subtly shifting the focus of the poem to reflect that assumption, the translator is essentially creating a new version of the story. Shaw demonstrates the shift by comparing key events in the Anglo-Saxon narrative to those in Latin versions --from the blinding of Matthew to the conversion of the Mermedonians-- and in the process shows how the poem's emphasis becomes the power of the spoken word.

In "Speech and the Unspoken in Hamthismal" T. A. Shippey proposes a new reading for Stanza 28 which is central to understanding the poem and which has been missed by those who have emended its apparent gaps with expansions and insertions from other texts--and this group includes not only modern critics but also Snorri Sturluson and the author of the Volsunga Saga. Using the analytical methods of modern pragmatic theory, Shippey examines the poem's direct speeches in the light of H. P. Grice's "Co-operative Principle," which, simply put, is that conversation should be informative, truthful, clear, and to the point, and, when it isn't, "implicatures" are created which the listener must then interpret. After analyzing the poem's implicatures and the listeners' reactions, Shippey argues that the proper focus of the poem is not family dynamics but criticism of talking too much, as Hamthir does by taunting Iormunrekkr when he could have saved his own life by immediately beheading him, thus preventing Iormunrekkr's command to stone him and Sorli.

In "Heroic Aspects of the Exeter Book Riddles" Eric Gerald Stanley examines the Old English riddles most often advanced as evoking the heroic world of Germanic tradition in thought and feeling. In some cases, he questions the proposed solutions (e.g., Riddles 5, 90, 95); in others, it is the heroic locutions that receive his attention (e.g., anhaga in Riddle 5, on gewin sceapen in 23, mundbora and dryhtgestreon in 17, indryhten in 95). Stanley finds that heroic language is most likely to occur in riddles on martial subjects and concludes that although some riddles undeniably evoke the heroic world of the Germanic past and others use locutions deriving from the same world, in general the heroic aspects of the riddles are superficial and Anglo-Saxonists have tended to overromanticize them in their commentaries.