By Kathleen Rose Palti
PhD Dissertation, University College London (2008)
Abstract: The manuscripts British Library, Sloane MS 2593, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. poet. e.1, and St John’s College, Cambridge, MS S.54 are compact collections of song lyrics written during the fifteenth century, largely without notation. My thesis seeks to develop responsive ways of reading these anthologies and uses the manuscripts to illumine the creative processes that produced and circulated their songs. I integrate attention to song lyrics within the material books and exploration of wider textual networks. As many of the anthologies’ texts are in carol form, a combination of refrain parts and stanzas, the books provide an opportunity to examine the form’s identity and significance within fifteenth-century English songwriting.
The thesis is in three parts and the first introduces critical approaches to the manuscripts and the carol, followed by an examination of the books and their contexts, especially manuscripts with which the anthologies have textual connections. The central section investigates the songs’ production and circulation by examining textual networks, how the anthologies were written, how the songs may have been performed, and the role of memory in shaping the songs and anthologies. The final part explores women’s role in the songs, the range of forms used, and the centrality of the many imagined voices and performances within the texts.
This is the first extended study focused upon these three sources, which as anthologies offer insight into ways songs were shared and organised. I investigate the role of short collections and booklets in the construction of longer anthologies, and the possibility of an especially productive song culture within fifteenth-century East Anglia. Rather than repeating assertions familiar from earlier studies of carols that the anthologies’ songs are either popular or clerical productions, I suggest how the anthologies engage with communal performance cultures and participate in varied song traditions, from liturgy to lullaby.
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