Oral Tradition in Medieval Welsh Poetry: 1100-1600

Oral Tradition in Medieval Welsh Poetry: 1100-1600

Johnston, Dafydd

Oral Tradition, 18/2 (2003)


Very little research has been done in this field, although there is in fact a rich body of evidence for the oral or memorial transmission of Welsh poetry in the later medieval period. As far as composition is concerned there is no direct evidence of poets’ practices, but nevertheless it is generally assumed that they would not have had recourse to writing (the earliest definite holograph texts date from the late fifteenth century, and even those are fair copies of poems composed previously). Since almost all the court poetry of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries has survived in a unique text copied about 1300, the opportunity for study of variance in transmission is limited. The only poem of that period which can be seen to have survived through oral as well as written tradition is Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch’s elegy to the last of the princes of Gwynedd that marked the end of Welsh political independence in 1282; two late fifteenth-century versions that differ very substantially from the supposedly authoritative text in the Red Book of Hergest can perhaps be explained as a reoralization from memory of that earlier text.

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