The long line of the Middle English alliterative revival : rhythmically coherent, metrically strict, phonologically English

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Psonak, Kevin Damien

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This study contributes to the search for metrical order in the 90,000 extant long lines of the late fourteenth-century Middle English Alliterative Revival. Using the 'Gawain'-poet's 'Patience' and 'Cleanness', it refutes nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars who mistook rhythmic liveliness for metrical disorganization and additionally corrects troubling missteps that scholars have taken over the last five years. 'Chapter One: Tame the "Gabble of Weaker Syllables"' rehearses the traditional, but mistaken view that long lines are barely patterned at all. It explains the widely-accepted methods for determining which syllables are metrically stressed and which are not: Give metrical stress to the syllables that in everyday Middle English were probably accented. 'Chapter Two: An Environment for Demotion in the B-Verse' introduces the relatively stringent metrical template of the b-verse as a foil for the different kind of meter at work in the a-verse. 'Chapter Three: Rhythmic Consistency in the Middle English Alliterative Long Line' examines the structure of the a-verse and considers the viability of verses with more than the normal two beats. An empirical investigation considers whether rhythmic consistency in the long line depends on three-beat a-verses. 'Chapter Four: Dynamic "Unmetre" and the Proscription against Three Sequential Iambs' posits an explanation for the unusual distributions of metrically unstressed syllables in the long line and finds that the 'Gawain'-poet's rhythms avoid the even alternation of beats and offbeats with uncanny precision. 'Chapter Five: Metrical Promotion, Linguistic Promotion, and False Extra-Long Dips' takes the rest of the dissertation as a foundation for explaining rhythmically puzzling a-verses. A-verses that seem to have excessively long sequences of offbeats and other a-verses that infringe on b-verse meter prove amenable to adjustment through metrical promotion. 'Conclusion: Metrical Regions in the Long Line' synthesizes the findings of the previous chapters in a survey of metrical tension in the long line. It additionally articulates the key theme of the dissertation: Contrary to traditional assumptions, Middle English alliterative long lines have variable, instead of consistent, numbers of beats and highly regulated, instead of liberally variable, arrangements of metrically unstressed syllables.




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