Thursday, December 03, 2009

£357,430 for research into Middle English verse forms

Professor Ad Putter of Bristol University’s Department of English has been awarded £357,430 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for a project that will investigate the verse forms of Middle English romances.

Together with Chaucerian verse and alliterative poetry, the romances are one of the three great tributaries of narrative verse in medieval England. The tradition began with King Horn, written around 1220, and continued into the 1570s when the stream of printed editions of verse romances finally dried up.

The romances were originally intended for a listening audience and, although they are still widely read today, modern readers no longer inhabit their sound worlds. This research project aims to rediscover these lost worlds through studying the aural qualities – rhyme and rhythm – of the poetry.

As part of the project, recorded readings will be made of these romances in their original text and metre. This will enable modern readers to familiarize themselves with forgotten conventions of rhyme and rhythm. A knowledge of these conventions will also help editors when weighing up the reliability of particular manuscript readings.

These CD and DVD recordings will also provide information about imprecise rhymes and rhythmical patterns which will be of permanent value for research into, for example, original pronunciation and historical sound changes.

Professor Putter said: “It is a shame the recent renewal of interest in the verse forms used by medieval poets has passed the Middle English romances by. For example, we don’t even know whether the verses of King Horn were short couplet lines in an alternating three-beat rhythm or whether they were meant to sound more like the half-lines of alliterative poetry.

“Since little is known about the metrical systems of these poems, editors have not been able to use metrical criteria when establishing their text and so the romances often circulate in editions that give the misleading impression that, where rhyme, stanza form, and rhythm are concerned, anything goes.

“This project aims to change that by investigating the particular metrical systems of the Middle English romances and exploring their textual and literary history to discover what their verse forms meant to poets, scribes, and audiences.”

The research will be carried out in cooperation with two project partners: the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and The Chaucer Studio, who will be making the audio recordings. The recordings will be used as teaching aids as part of Bristol University's annual outreach programme, and in day courses to be offered as part of the University's Lifelong Learning programmes in English Literature.

The project will run from 1 March 2010 to 31 October 2013. Led by Professor Putter, the research team also includes the historical linguist Professor Donka Minkova (UCLA) and Dr Judith Jefferson (University of Bristol).