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Writing the Oral Tradition

Writing the Oral Tradition

Oral Poetics and Literate Culture in Medieval England

Mark C. Amodio

“This is a splendid, rewarding book destined to reshape critical thinking about medieval poetry in English. Amodio combines groundbreaking theory with a deep, wide-ranging command of relevant scholarship to offer a uniquely inclusive perspective on an enormous and disparate collection of Old and Middle English poetry.” —John Miles Foley, University of Missouri, Columbia

“This is a well-conceived, well-structured, and well-written book that fills a significant gap in current scholarly discourse. Amodio is extremely well-informed about current oral theory, and presents a beautifully integrated thesis. This clear-sighted and provocative book both promises and delivers much.” —Andy Orchard, University of Toronto

Mark Amodio’s book focuses on the influence of the oral tradition on written vernacular verse produced in England from the fifth to the fifteenth century. His primary aim is to explore how a living tradition articulated only through the public, performance voices of pre-literate singers came to find expression through the pens of private, literate authors. Amodio argues that the expressive economy of oral poetics survives in written texts because, throughout the Middle Ages, literacy and orality were interdependent, not competing, cultural forces.

After delving into the background of the medieval oral-literate matrix, Writing the Oral Tradition develops a model of non-performative oral poetics that is a central, perhaps defining, component of Old English vernacular verse. Following the Norman Conquest, oral poetics lost its central position and became one of many ways to articulate poetry. Contrary to many scholars, Amodio argues that oral poetics did not disappear but survived well into the post-Conquest period. It influenced the composition of Middle English verse texts produced from the twelfth to the fourteenth century because it offered poets an affectively powerful and economical way to articulate traditional meanings. Indeed, fragments of oral poetics are discoverable in contemporary prose, poetics, and film as they continue to faithfully emit their traditional meanings.

Writing the Oral Tradition will appeal to specialists and students interested in medieval literature, medieval cultural studies, and oral theory.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02024-8
320 pages
Publication Year: 2005

Mark C. Amodio is professor of English at Vassar College.

“In this exceptionally fine book, Amodio examines the process by which oral poetic performance interacted with written vernacular poetry in the English medieval tradition. . . . This closely argued and very detailed book examines a wide variety of texts—some well known to students of medieval literature, others less familiar—and considers technical issues of metrics and lexemes and broader issues of theme and imagery. This book makes a significant contribution to the study of the relationship between oral and written poetry in the medieval period. Essential.” — Choice

“Mark Amodio’s book stands as an important addition to the growing body of work that insists upon at least some important continuities between Old and Middle English poetry, despite the obvious (if previously overemphasized) disjunctions. Amodio’s method (as his subtitle suggests) is to read Old and Middle English literature through the lens of oral poetics, leading him to discern a tradition of such poetics extending from the beginnings of Old English verse through the Middle English period, although with generally diminishing affective force as the effects of literacy became more dominant. . . . Amodio’s book maps out a vision of the continuities and disruptions between Old and Middle English poetry that powerfully calls into question the conventional periodization that stresses only their differences.” — Speculum

“Amodio has made an important contribution to oral theory, to research methodology in this difficult area, and to our understanding of the actual workings of oral poetics-not only in the earliest period of English literature, but even more significantly in the progress of oral poetics through the later Middle Ages.” — The Journal of Folklore Research

“Mark C. Amodio’s study of the early English vernacular poetic tradition is detailed and wide ranging. Proceeding chronologically, he discusses what he calls the ‘oral poetics’ of Anglo-Saxon England, before moving on to an exploration of what happened to this tradition after the Norman Conquest. His discussion of the transformation of form, lexis, and theme of the inherited ‘oral poetics’ by post-Conquest poets sheds fascinating new light on a little studied period of English poetry.” — Medium Ævum

“Mark Amodio uses the framework of the study of oral-traditional poetics to examine the continuities between Old and Middle English poetry; his particular focus lies with the complex shift from oral to written composition . . . Historians of early medieval orality and literacy will find in this book a useful access point into the oral-traditional study of poetics.” — Early Medieval Europe

“ … an innovative, convincing, and thoroughly engaging ‘study of the oral tradition’s influence on the vernacular verse produced in England from the beginnings of the Anglo-Saxon period in the fifth century C.E. through the close of the Middle Ages in the early fifteenth.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“This valuable contribution addresses an item currently on the agenda of oral-formulaic theory—namely, coming to terms with written texts. Taken together, the different parts of Amodio’s argument show that the freighted vocabulary, thematics, and story patterns of an oral poetics remain or can remain accessible to poets who compose in writing and create texts rather than performances. This is indeed a major revision of oral theory, and it is cogently set out.” — Journal of American Folklore

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Writing the Oral Tradition

Oral Poetics and Literate Culture in Medieval England

Mark C. Amodio

 Writing the Oral Tradition: Oral Poetics and Literate Culture in Medieval England
Paper Edition

“This is a splendid, rewarding book destined to reshape critical thinking about medieval poetry in English. Amodio combines groundbreaking theory with a deep, wide-ranging command of relevant scholarship to offer a uniquely inclusive perspective on an enormous and disparate collection of Old and Middle English poetry.” —John Miles Foley, University of Missouri, Columbia

“This is a well-conceived, well-structured, and well-written book that fills a significant gap in current scholarly discourse. Amodio is extremely well-informed about current oral theory, and presents a beautifully integrated thesis. This clear-sighted and provocative book both promises and delivers much.” —Andy Orchard, University of Toronto

Mark Amodio’s book focuses on the influence of the oral tradition on written vernacular verse produced in England from the fifth to the fifteenth century. His primary aim is to explore how a living tradition articulated only through the public, performance voices of pre-literate singers came to find expression through the pens of private, literate authors. Amodio argues that the expressive economy of oral poetics survives in written texts because, throughout the Middle Ages, literacy and orality were interdependent, not competing, cultural forces.

After delving into the background of the medieval oral-literate matrix, Writing the Oral Tradition develops a model of non-performative oral poetics that is a central, perhaps defining, component of Old English vernacular verse. Following the Norman Conquest, oral poetics lost its central position and became one of many ways to articulate poetry. Contrary to many scholars, Amodio argues that oral poetics did not disappear but survived well into the post-Conquest period. It influenced the composition of Middle English verse texts produced from the twelfth to the fourteenth century because it offered poets an affectively powerful and economical way to articulate traditional meanings. Indeed, fragments of oral poetics are discoverable in contemporary prose, poetics, and film as they continue to faithfully emit their traditional meanings.

Writing the Oral Tradition will appeal to specialists and students interested in medieval literature, medieval cultural studies, and oral theory.

ISBN: 978-0-268-02024-8

320 pages

“In this exceptionally fine book, Amodio examines the process by which oral poetic performance interacted with written vernacular poetry in the English medieval tradition. . . . This closely argued and very detailed book examines a wide variety of texts—some well known to students of medieval literature, others less familiar—and considers technical issues of metrics and lexemes and broader issues of theme and imagery. This book makes a significant contribution to the study of the relationship between oral and written poetry in the medieval period. Essential.” — Choice

“Mark Amodio’s book stands as an important addition to the growing body of work that insists upon at least some important continuities between Old and Middle English poetry, despite the obvious (if previously overemphasized) disjunctions. Amodio’s method (as his subtitle suggests) is to read Old and Middle English literature through the lens of oral poetics, leading him to discern a tradition of such poetics extending from the beginnings of Old English verse through the Middle English period, although with generally diminishing affective force as the effects of literacy became more dominant. . . . Amodio’s book maps out a vision of the continuities and disruptions between Old and Middle English poetry that powerfully calls into question the conventional periodization that stresses only their differences.” — Speculum

“Amodio has made an important contribution to oral theory, to research methodology in this difficult area, and to our understanding of the actual workings of oral poetics-not only in the earliest period of English literature, but even more significantly in the progress of oral poetics through the later Middle Ages.” — The Journal of Folklore Research

“Mark C. Amodio’s study of the early English vernacular poetic tradition is detailed and wide ranging. Proceeding chronologically, he discusses what he calls the ‘oral poetics’ of Anglo-Saxon England, before moving on to an exploration of what happened to this tradition after the Norman Conquest. His discussion of the transformation of form, lexis, and theme of the inherited ‘oral poetics’ by post-Conquest poets sheds fascinating new light on a little studied period of English poetry.” — Medium Ævum

“Mark Amodio uses the framework of the study of oral-traditional poetics to examine the continuities between Old and Middle English poetry; his particular focus lies with the complex shift from oral to written composition . . . Historians of early medieval orality and literacy will find in this book a useful access point into the oral-traditional study of poetics.” — Early Medieval Europe

“ … an innovative, convincing, and thoroughly engaging ‘study of the oral tradition’s influence on the vernacular verse produced in England from the beginnings of the Anglo-Saxon period in the fifth century C.E. through the close of the Middle Ages in the early fifteenth.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“This valuable contribution addresses an item currently on the agenda of oral-formulaic theory—namely, coming to terms with written texts. Taken together, the different parts of Amodio’s argument show that the freighted vocabulary, thematics, and story patterns of an oral poetics remain or can remain accessible to poets who compose in writing and create texts rather than performances. This is indeed a major revision of oral theory, and it is cogently set out.” — Journal of American Folklore

Poetics of Orality and Literacy

A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Book