My first book, English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History, is published by Cambridge University Press (2016; paperback 2019), number 96 in the series Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature. The book is based on my Yale University dissertation, “The Durable Alliterative Tradition” (2014).

Eric Weiskott, English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History

English Alliterative Verse won the 2018 English Association Beatrice White Prize for outstanding scholarly work in the field of English literature before 1590.

In 2017, I gave a video interview to Boston College Libraries about the book. Thanks to Stephen Sturgeon for interviewing me.

from the inside flap:

English Alliterative Verse tells the story of the medieval poetic tradition that includes BeowulfPiers Plowman, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, stretching from the eighth century, when English poetry first appeared in manuscripts, to the sixteenth century, when alliterative poetry ceased to be composed. Eric Weiskott draws on the study of meter to challenge the traditional division of medieval English literary history into ‘Old English’ and ‘Middle English’ periods. The two halves of the alliterative tradition, divided by the Norman Conquest of 1066, have been studied separately since the nineteenth century; this book uses the history of metrical form and its cultural meanings to bring the two halves back together. In combining literary history and metrical description into a new kind of history he calls ‘verse history,’ Weiskott reimagines the historical study of poetics.


Evolution of the Alliterative B-Verse, 650-1550

Introduction: The Durable Alliterative Tradition

Beowulf and Verse History
The Evolution of Alliterative Meter, 950-1100
Verse History and Language History
Beowulf and the Unknown Shape of Old English Literary History

2 Prologues to Old English Poetry
Old English Prologues and Old English Poetic Styles
The Beowulf Prologue and the History of Style

3 Lawman, the Last Old English Poet and the First Middle English Poet
Lawman and the Evolution of Alliterative Meter
Lawman at a Crossroads in Literary History

4 Prologues to Middle English Alliterative Poetry
The Continuity of the Alliterative Tradition, 1250-1340
Excursus: Middle English Alliterating Stanzaic Poetry
Middle English Prologues, romaunce, and Middle English Poetic Styles

5 The Erkenwald Poet’s Sense of History
A Meditation on Histories
St. Erkenwald and the Idea of Alliterative Verse in Late Medieval England
Authors, Styles, and the Search for a Middle English Canon

6 The Alliterative Tradition in the Sixteenth Century
The Alliterative Tradition in its Tenth Century
Unmodernity: The Idea of Alliterative Verse in the Sixteenth Century

Conclusion: Whose Tradition?

Appendix A. Fifteen Late Old English Poems Omitted from ASPR
Appendix B. Six Early Middle English Alliterative Poems
Appendix C. An Early Middle English Alliterative Poem in Latin


English Association Beatrice White Prize, 2018


For metrists, Weiskott offers a detailed map of change in alliterative verse. This significant achievement is likely to underwrite future scholarship. For medievalists more generally, the book presents interesting claims to consider and research to extend.” —Rachel Kapelle in Arthuriana

“[Weiskott’s] analysis of primary sources from Beowulf to Robert Crowley’s 1550 publication of Piers Plowman, as well as of the theoretical framework for conceptualizing metrical practice, effects an exceedingly subtle shift in the study of metrics. […] Weiskott’s synthesis of phenomenological and historical poetics, a valuable contribution in itself, also clarifies a number of technical matters.” —Nicholas Myklebust in Modern Philology

“Weiskott’s typology of prologues is a valuable contribution to the study of medieval English literature that furnishes a number of illuminating insights into the history of alliterative verse.” —Rafael J. Pascual in Atlantis

“There will be something in this book to interest anyone working on alliterative poetry from Beowulf to the sixteenth century (a period covered in the final chapter of the book). […] [A] stimulating study of alliterative poetry and alliterative metre.” Ad Putter, coauthor of Studies in the Metre of Alliterative Verse

“Weiskott’s book is the one that had the strongest impact on me, given that it can most convincingly be read as a defence of the honour of the alliterative tradition and its dynamism. It emphasizes the variety of styles within the tradition, and the influence of this tradition on other traditions, which led to the invention of various hybrid forms.” —Jonathan Roper, editor of Alliteration in Culture

“Weiskott’s history of medieval alliterative verse undertakes the joint, essential tasks of, first, providing a clear, useful synthesis of formalist descriptions of the alliterative line and its near analogues and, second, providing a clear, compelling historical narrative of the line’s evolution and of its likely ideological content at each phase of its deployment. No small part of this study’s considerable value is its demonstration of how formal technique and historical understanding interrelate in this major, millennium-long literary tradition, and for this reason this book’s implications are quite far-reaching indeed.” —Stephen Yeager, author of From Lawmen to Plowmen: Anglo-Saxon Legal Tradition and the School of Langland


M. A. Volkonskaya, Literature and Language Series [Серия литературы и языка] 79 (2020): 114-17 [Russian]
Anna Helene Feulner, Anglia 137 (2019): 670-78 [German]
Jennifer Hekmeijer, Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association 15 (2019): 151-52
Judith A. Jefferson, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 118 (2019): 266-68
Mark Griffith, Notes and Queries 65 (2018): 572-73
Rachel Kapelle, Arthuriana 28 (2018): 100-101
Nicholas Myklebust, Modern Philology 116 (2018): E27-9
Rafael J. Pascual, Atlantis 40 (2018): 221-30
Ad Putter, English Studies 99 (2018): 344-46
Jonathan Roper, Folklore 73 (2018): 196-99
Stephen Yeager, Yearbook of Langland Studies 32 (2018): 462-65
Sarah Wood, Review of English Studies 68 (2017): 988-90

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