Medieval Ballads and Lyrics

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  • Topic: Ballad, Francis James Child, Robin Hood
  • Pages : 5 (1620 words )
  • Download(s) : 427
  • Published : March 26, 2005
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Recently, the term ‘ballad' can be associated with everything from Solomon's Song to an Aerosmith song. The dictionary defines it as a traditional story in song or a simple song. However, the medieval ballad is something of a different nature than that of the popular musical ballads of today. The definition of ballad in the medieval context is a narrative poem. The authors usually remain anonymous and the ballad is more often than not accompanied by dance (Gummere). This is not surprising considering the word ‘ballad' comes from the Latin word ‘ballare,' meaning ‘to dance' (Dixon). Almost all ballads follow the same distinct criteria. They are all performed by a minstrel or troubadour complemented by music and are normally performed for an audience. All ballads tell a story with major themes of revenge, envy, betrayal, loyalty, and superstition, although they may touch on other subjects. These stories only focus on one major event and can be about the dramatic events of heroes or every day people. Though the bulk of the stories begin in the middle of an event, there is very little background information given (Knight). Characters rarely show any development and most stories lack detail. It is also important to know that there are there are three types of ballads: traditional ballads, broadside ballads and literary ballads (Dixon). Traditional ballads originated from ‘folk tales' or other anecdotes told by peasants in England. These were most commonly passed by oral tradition. The broadside ballad is the traditional ballad's cousin in many ways. These ballads were more common in urban or city like areas in the 16th century and were more likely to be printed and handed out instead of performed. The literary ballad is a combination of both the traditional and broadside types. These ballads appeared in the 18th century when ballads began to be published (Gummere). Medieval ballads, of course, are in the category of traditional ballads. When studying medieval ballads, it is important to remember that the entertainment in the medieval period did not include television or computers. Medieval ballads were very lengthy to capture people's attention for long periods of time. This is how the stories were passed from one generation to the next. The passing of ballads orally was the most popular. Francis James Child was the first to put together a collection of over 300 ballads (Child). The only ballads that can be traced are those, which have been written. Other than that, there is very little information available about their origins. We will never be sure exactly how much the people who eventually documented these ballads embellished the stories. It is almost impossible to discuss the ballad without touching on Judas. Judas is considered the first ballad ever written (Dixon). It is estimated to be over 150 years older than any other ballad. Though it is sometimes questioned whether Judas is actually a ballad or if it is a poem, it was included in Child's collection and holds most of the criteria for a traditional ballad (Child). The epic ballad is one of the largest groups of ballads. These tales are mostly about common events. They lack a dramatic crisis and center on a very complex plot. Believe it or not, most of the plots are about borrowing. Borrowing things from one another often caused friction between neighbors, which made for great stories. Romantic situations were often tied into these conflicts as well. In Fair Annie the conflict is between two women on a ship and most of the story is about an argument over making a bed underlying the whole thing is a theme of a husband being unfaithful. Child Maurice has a very romantic story in it involving a man trying to find the woman he loves. Almost all of the structures are similar with epic ballads in that they continually repeat certain lines. Child Maurice and Fair Annie are no exceptions to this rule. Outlaw ballads are a popular style of...
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