“HARKEN TO ME”
MIDDLE ENGLISH ROMANCES IN TRANSLATION
Middle English romances form an extremely diverse group, ranging from chivalric to homiletic, as evidenced by the works in this collection. Much is not known about them: author, audience, mode of presentation and transmission must all be conjectured. And many have been lost, some in text and others that were never committed to writing. So we are left with an incomplete corpus preserved in manuscripts, which are often compilations of miscellaneous works of religious, didactic, political and practical nature along with romances. This suggests a wide reading interest, as well as the commonly held scholarly belief that medieval audiences sought both entertainment and edification.
Romances bring the thrill of battle, adventure, supernatural marvels and, of course, love. But many, if not most, also address ethical, moral and cultural values, as well as voicing social commentary. Thus the two collections in this edition are not as unrelated as it may seem. While the mode and mood of the two are quite different, poets of both genres express concern over contemporary conditions.
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“THE WICKED AGE”
MIDDLE ENGLISH COMPLAINT LITERATURE IN TRANSLATION
This collection is an introduction to complaint literature, perhaps one of the least read but most essential genres of late Middle English literature. Complaint literature spans many genres, though there is a corpus identified variously as political songs, poems of social protest, verse of complaint, Abuses of the Age literature, literature of social unrest, and other appellations. We have attempted to include voices of complaint from across the forms and genres.
The authors, generally anonymous, critique in various ways the social ills they perceive. Many speak for groups who cannot speak for themselves, though removed from their subjects’ experience, while some represent situations with which they are personally familiar. Few are free of bias, but without their observations, opinions and critiques, our understanding of the conditions, concerns and ideologies of the culture would be unbalanced and incomplete.
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