This past October, I gave an invited talk for the Harvard English Department Medieval Colloquium. My gratitude to Erica Weaver and Helen Cushman for the invitation. My talk, entitled “Alliterative Meter and the Alliterative Tradition after 1450,” was drawn from the final chapter of my first book. Here’s the opening paragraph of the talk:
Alliterative meter after 1450 has received much less attention than its fourteenth-century ancestor. As a result, basic questions about metrical phonology and metrical typology remain unanswered. Yet if the alliterative tradition exerted significant pressure on adjacent literary forms before 1450, as argued in the previous chapters, then mapping the forms of post-1450 alliterative meter promises to sharpen understanding of post-1450 English literary culture as a whole. This chapter traces the generic, codicological, textual, and cultural contexts for alliterative meter in the century before it disappeared from the active repertoire of verse forms. In doing so, this chapter lays the groundwork for a new literary history of the sixteenth century. After surveying the extant alliterative poems composed after 1450, I describe the systemic changes manifested in alliterative meter in this period, completing the formal evolution set out in previous chapters. The second section considers mid sixteenth- to mid seventeenth-century print and manuscript evidence for the reception of earlier alliterative meter, focusing on the two manuscript texts of Scottish Field (1515-47), Robert Crowley’s first edition of Piers Plowman (1550), and Crowley’s own poetry. I reconstruct scribes’ and authors’ perceptions of the alliterative meter in the period after the conclusion of active metrical practice but before the advent of modern metrical theory. I conclude by arguing that the contribution of the alliterative tradition to the so-called invention of modern literature has been underestimated by literary histories that enforce an absolute division between ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ periods of literary activity.