Performance and the Middle English Romance

Performance and the Middle English Romance

Linda Marie Zaerr





An examination of if and how medieval romance was performed, uniquely uniting the perspective of a scholar and practitioner.
Although English medieval minstrels performed gestes, a genre closely related to romance, often playing the harp or the fiddle, the question of if, and how, Middle English romance was performed has been hotly debated. Here, the performance tradition is explored by combining textual, historical and musicological scholarship with practical experience from a noted musician. Using previously unrecognised evidence, the author reconstructs a realistic model of minstrel performance, showing how a simple melody can interact with the text, and vice versa. She argues that elements in Middle English romance which may seem simplistic or repetitive may in fact be incomplete, as missing an integral musical dimension; metrical irregularities, for example, may be relics of sophisticated rhythmic variation that make sense only with music. Overall, the study offers both a more accurate comprehension of minstrel performance, and a deeper appreciation of the romances themselves.

Linda Marie Zaerr is Professor of Medieval Studies at Boise State University.

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August 2012
296 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Medieval Romance
ISBN: 9781843843238
Format: Hardback
BIC AVGC2, 1D, 2AB, 3H
BISAC LIT011000, MUS020000, HIS037010
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Table of Contents

Continental Traditions of Narrative Performance
The English Minstrel in History and Romance
Musical Instruments and Narrative
Meter, Accent, and Rhythm
Music and the Middle English Romance
Appendix A: Minstrel References in the Middle English Verse Romances
Appendix B: Medieval Fiddle Tuning and Implications for Narrative Performance
Glossary of Terms


[O]ffers the first comprehensive list of references to minstrel performances in the Middle English romances. . . . Zaerr's vivid account . . . provides a strong sense of how much we have lost now that we can only read the romances on the page. EARLY MUSIC

Offer[s] a fresh perspective on Middle English romances not just as texts but also as performance acts. COMITATUS 44

[T]his is a splendid book, presenting a fine collection of textual evidence and commentary, which is a most valuable contribution to the field of medieval musicology. THE CONSORT

This is a fascinating book, a sort of dialogue between scholar and performer, both being the same person [. . .] stimulating. EARLY MUSIC REVIEW

With huge experience in performing Middle English romances, Professor Zaerr brings her valuable perspective as a performer to current textual, historical and musicological scholarship, in order to understand better how medieval minstrels performed romances with music. She shows how a broader, more fluid concept of romance can lead us to more profound understanding, and exciting revelations. --Professor Marilyn Lawrence, New York University.

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