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Durham e-Theses
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The English riddle ballads

Edmunds, Susan (1985) The English riddle ballads. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The term 'English Riddle Ballad' is taken here to describe the six items in Child's collection of English and Scottish popular ballads which have become known as such: Child numbers 1, 2, 3,45, 46 and 47. All these ballads are in the English language, and all contain some sort of questions which do not have direct answers; beyond this, the group is not a homogenous one in age, place, form or content. For each ballad, as many variants as possible have been assembled and are described chronologically in Appendices. By an examination of the whole corpus of texts, this thesis traces, within the limitations of the material, the history and transmission of each item. At the same time, the various relationships with cultural and historical backgrounds are explored. The tunes have been arranged in groups to help in identifying patterns of transmission. In particular, the nature and effects of the riddling element in each case is investigated, and a separate chapter (8) goes on to compare and analyse these as poetic structures. This chapter also puts forward a definition of riddling based on the mental processes involved, rather than on the linguistic form of the riddle itself; this avoids the problems of former definitions of the genre which exclude much material that is traditionally and instinctively classed as riddle. According to this definition, however, only four of the six 'Riddle Ballads' can be said to contain true riddling elements. A final chapter brings the ballads into alignment with modern anthropological studies of the riddle, describing other contexts in which riddling occurs, and evaluating the achievements of this limited but intriguing genre.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1985
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 Jul 2013 10:54

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