Performance in the Anglo-Saxon poetic imagination

Breeze, Steven John Alan (2018) Performance in the Anglo-Saxon poetic imagination. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis proposes a distinct, poetic conception of ‘artistry’ (the collective term incorporating performer, performance, and musical instrument used in the thesis) in early medieval England. Through stylistic and aesthetic analysis of Old English poetry, informed by oral-formulaic and post-oral-formulaic theory, and theoretical strands such as Peter Clemoes on the relationship between thought and language and Michael Drout on tradition, the thesis accepts that representations of artistry are principally idealised, generalised, symbolic constructs. They reveal concepts significant in the Anglo-Saxon poetic imagination. Cultural understanding of artistry is expressed in wisdom poems from the period, and reflected in narrative poems. In Beowulf, artistry is shown to be intrinsic to the poem’s construction, interperformativity, and narrative cultural contexts. In addition to brief, oblique depictions, in which singing and harp-playing is commonly referred to, the dominant type of artistry is storytelling. The thesis thus challenges the primacy typically afforded the ‘oral poet’, questioning the supposition that the poems routinely represent the performance of analogous poetic material. Idealisation is challenged in non-poetic material, indicating that the significance and popularity in society of the kinds of secular artistry represented in poetry is influencing Anglo-Saxon cultural behaviour, leading to admonition among certain members of the clergy. The extant literature of a closely related culture, Old Norse Eddic poetry, does not contain such representation, which appears unique to the Anglo- Saxon poetic imagination in the early medieval period. After the demise of Old English poetic form, aspects of this this distinct representation lingered, a sub-tradition of which is discernible in Laȝamon’s Brut. Artistry in post-Conquest poetry is disconnected from a poem’s wider narrative events and its architectonics. It becomes a crystallised, formulaic component with routinised referentiality, partly the result of the transition from oral to textual transmission. Artistry becomes a tradition of the archaising, retrospective poetic imagination.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2019 13:12
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2019 13:12
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/365

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