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Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe

Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe

Thomas A. DuBois

Focusing on particular characters, situations, or emotions—usually with little or no explicit plot—lyric song poses interpretive challenges to the listening audience. Without an overt plot, how does one understand what a song is about? Are there rules or norms for how to interpret them? Do these rules remain the same from culture to culture, or do they vary?

By looking at the ways in which cultures in Northern Europe interpret lyric songs, Thomas A. DuBois illuminates both commonalities of interpretive practice and unique features of their musical traditions. DuBois draws on sets of lyric songs from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland to explore the question of meaning in folklore, especially the role of traditional audiences in appraising and understanding nonnarrative songs.

DuBois’s examples range from the medieval and early modern periods to the late twentieth century. His nuanced study explicates folk practices of interpretation—a “native hermeneutics” existing alongside folk songs in North European oral tradition. He examines lyric songs—particularly formal laments—embedded with prose or poetic narratives; the ritual use of lyric as charms and laments in premodern Europe; the development of personalized meanings within hymns and devotional prayers of the high Middle Ages; Shakespeare’s lyric songs and their demands on the audience; and the ways in which professional lyric singers encourage certain interpretations of their songs. The only study to examine a range of northern European lyric traditions as a unified group, Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe will be of interest to scholars in medieval studies, literary studies, and folklore.

“In his ground-breaking book, Thomas DuBois draws on studies in oral tradition and on literary approaches to make the case for a European lyric mode of wide-ranging breadth. Students of medieval studies, literary studies, and folklore all will benefit from his work.” —John Miles Foley, Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, University of Missouri

ISBN: 978-0-268-02589-2
280 pages
Publication Year: 2006

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Thomas A. DuBois is professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“. . . This is a deep, penetrating exploration, and the range is extraordinary. . . . Scholars and musicians alike will find this book a treasure trove.” — Choice

“Having so much comparative material under one cover is no small merit, and from this point of view the book will be of use to students of oral literature and its offshoots. In his ability to read and enjoy texts in so many extremely difficult languages DuBois may have no rivals.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“. . . DuBois provides an interesting approach to the interpretation of folk songs from Northern Europe by establishing various axes that enable the reader to analyze the meaning and significance of those songs through various frames. . . .[He] has provided a critical work that acknowledges and respects prior scholarship.”
Western Folklore

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Piers Plowman and the Poetics of Enigma

Riddles, Rhetoric, and Theology

Curtis A. Gruenler

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Creation as Emanation

The Origin of Diversity in Albert the Great’s On the Causes and the Procession of the Universe

Thérèse Bonin

P03262

Michael Psellos on Literature and Art

A Byzantine Perspective on Aesthetics

Michael Psellos
Edited by Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou

Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe

Thomas A. DuBois

 Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe
Paper Edition

Focusing on particular characters, situations, or emotions—usually with little or no explicit plot—lyric song poses interpretive challenges to the listening audience. Without an overt plot, how does one understand what a song is about? Are there rules or norms for how to interpret them? Do these rules remain the same from culture to culture, or do they vary?

By looking at the ways in which cultures in Northern Europe interpret lyric songs, Thomas A. DuBois illuminates both commonalities of interpretive practice and unique features of their musical traditions. DuBois draws on sets of lyric songs from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland to explore the question of meaning in folklore, especially the role of traditional audiences in appraising and understanding nonnarrative songs.

DuBois’s examples range from the medieval and early modern periods to the late twentieth century. His nuanced study explicates folk practices of interpretation—a “native hermeneutics” existing alongside folk songs in North European oral tradition. He examines lyric songs—particularly formal laments—embedded with prose or poetic narratives; the ritual use of lyric as charms and laments in premodern Europe; the development of personalized meanings within hymns and devotional prayers of the high Middle Ages; Shakespeare’s lyric songs and their demands on the audience; and the ways in which professional lyric singers encourage certain interpretations of their songs. The only study to examine a range of northern European lyric traditions as a unified group, Lyric, Meaning, and Audience in the Oral Tradition of Northern Europe will be of interest to scholars in medieval studies, literary studies, and folklore.

“In his ground-breaking book, Thomas DuBois draws on studies in oral tradition and on literary approaches to make the case for a European lyric mode of wide-ranging breadth. Students of medieval studies, literary studies, and folklore all will benefit from his work.” —John Miles Foley, Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, University of Missouri

ISBN: 978-0-268-02589-2

280 pages

“. . . This is a deep, penetrating exploration, and the range is extraordinary. . . . Scholars and musicians alike will find this book a treasure trove.” — Choice

“Having so much comparative material under one cover is no small merit, and from this point of view the book will be of use to students of oral literature and its offshoots. In his ability to read and enjoy texts in so many extremely difficult languages DuBois may have no rivals.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“. . . DuBois provides an interesting approach to the interpretation of folk songs from Northern Europe by establishing various axes that enable the reader to analyze the meaning and significance of those songs through various frames. . . .[He] has provided a critical work that acknowledges and respects prior scholarship.”
Western Folklore

Poetics of Orality and Literacy