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A critical study of some traditional religious ballads

McCabe, Mary Diane (1980) A critical study of some traditional religious ballads. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The subject-matter of the British religious ballads indicates that they were made before the Reformation or in its immediate aftermath. A study of this small, homogeneous group provides valuable information regarding the ballad genre and its mode of survival, yet is undertaken here for the first time. Eleven traditional religious ballads are studied in depth: their sources and analogues in the bible, apocryphal legend and Middle English literature are described, their place in European folk tradition is outlined and their survival through oral transmission, the Christmas carol custom, and the broadside press is traced. The features of the medieval ur-ballads underlying the extant texts are suggested and a brief critical appreciation of each ballad is given. The ballad variants are listed as fully as possible in the appendices and include several unpublished texts. The earliest ballad, Judas, provides evidence that the genre existed in England in the thirteenth century and indicates that the themes of religious ballads may diverge sharply from official Christian tradition: not even Dives and Lazarus is free from the influence of medieval legend. Although five ballads, two mistakenly excluded from Child's collection, were printed as broadsides. The Bitter Withy, a ballad unknown to scholars before 1905, was transmitted purely in English oral tradition. A few ballads have survived in Scottish or Irish folk tradition in unlikely circumstances. Sir Hugh illustrates the gradual secularisation of a saint’s legend in Britain and America. Though often considered untypical of traditional balladry, the religious ballads exhibit the metre, dramatic structure and formulaic diction characteristic of the genre and differ only in their use of scriptural or apocryphal material and their often didactic purpose. Their devout religious feeling and delicate irony, dependent on their hearers' knowledge of Christian tradition, have not hitherto received sufficient praise.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:1980
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Sep 2013 09:17

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