Oral tradition, Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry, and the fourteenth century : "reading" the oral in the alliterative Morte Arthure and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This project is the first book-length study of the oral traditional aspects of the fourteenth-century long-line alliterative poems the Morte Arthure and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The purpose of this project is to analyze the texts' abilities to make meaning by drawing on oral tradition, reconciling the Old English heroic influence with the Middle English romance genre exemplified by these works. By doing so, this dissertation makes two contributions to current studies of these poems and alliterative verse. First, it reconsiders the alliterative meter as a potential means of establishing heroic register, an idiomatic way of speaking determined by recurrent situations. Viewing the meter as a signal of register enhances the traditional meaning implicit in the form of the poetry. This reconsideration shifts discussion of the meter away from technical aspects to the connection between meter and content via register. Second, instead of men who fail to uphold continental modes of chivalry, my project reframes the protagonists of King Arthur and Sir Gawain as oral traditional heroic models reminiscent of Old English poetry. By coming to the poems from this previously unexamined angle, I open a new pathway of understanding these texts and their heroic content, providing a new model of how a fourteenth-century audience might have read the poems by responding to traditional cues. My project demonstrates an ongoing tradition influenced by the alliterative meter of the poems, a tradition that bridges the perceived divide in medieval English literature supposedly caused by the Norman Conquest in 1066.
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