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Dissonant Neighbours Progression and Radiality in Welsh and English Poetic Narrative to c. 1250

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Callander, David Robert 


This PhD dissertation examines narrative in early Welsh and English poetry, and more particularly how, where, and why we find temporal progression and radiality in the poetic narrative of both literatures. The term ‘radiality’ is discussed by Joseph Clancy, who, in introducing his translations of medieval Welsh poems, describes them as generally having ‘“radial” structure, circling about, repeating, and elaborating the central theme’. In making this investigation, this PhD dissertation is informed by narrative theory, particularly the model proposed by William Labov, and it contains a detailed methodological section, highlighting how I adapt this model to make it work better with my corpus. The model is further developed so as to enable the creation of some statistical data, which is deployed alongside close reading in looking at trends over a corpus and between different corpora. My corpus consists on the one hand in all Welsh poems composed before c. 1250 with significant narrative elements or containing a list-like narrative. These are set in contrast with English poems composed before c. 1250 narrating the same subjects or containing the same stylistic features. Although the comparison is primarily between Welsh and English poetry, I also compare texts to their sources or analogues, primarily in Latin or French, as looking at how the poems depart from shared traditions is key in examining the particular tendencies of each literature. Following the model developed by Sarah Higley, the Welsh and English texts are contrasted with one another to highlight the idiosyncracies of both. In the first chapter, I examine the role temporal markers and direct speech play in the progression and radiality of early Welsh and English secular battle poetry. In most but not all cases, there is a clear opposition between extended and clearly marked narrative in the English and shorter narratives with less temporal deixis in the Welsh. Following this, Chapter 2 moves to the future to look at narrative at the End of Days, where markedly different patterns of contrast are found between the poems. I seek to explain why this is the case, looking in particular at the role of time-reference in determining narrativity. Chapter 3 begins with a detailed study of Iesu a Mair a’r Cynhaeaf Gwyrthiol (‘Jesus and Mary and the Miraculous Harvest’) and compares the way it tells its story with the narration found in its analogues, noting how and why this Welsh text has particularly clear, in some ways almost prose-like, narrative. The chapter then expands to compare narratives of Christ’s birth and early life in early Middle Welsh and Middle English poetry more generally, while investigating their relative absence in Old English. IChapter 4 moves away from thematic comparison to examine a particular structure: the list. Y Gofeiss6ys Byt, an early Welsh narrative poem in many ways exceptional, is studied in detail, and the way in which listing interacts with narrative in that text serves as a springboard for a wider discussion of list/narrative interplay in early Welsh and English poetry.




Russell, Paul
Dance, Richard


medieval literature, Welsh literature, English literature, narrative, poetics


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC, Leverhulme Trust