A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

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Laura C. Lambdin, Robert T. Lambdin
Greenwood Press, 2002 - Literary Criticism - 433 pages
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Old and Middle English literature can be obscure and challenging. So, too, can the vast body of criticism it has elicited. Yet the masters of medieval literature often drew on similar texts, since imitation was admired. For this reason, recent scholarship has often focused on the importance of genre. The genre in which a work was written can illuminate the author's intentions and the text's meaning. Read in light of a genre's parameters, a given work can be considered in relation to other works within the same category. This reference is a comprehensive overview of Old and Middle English literature.

Chapters focus on particular genres, such as Allegorical Verse, Balladry, Beast Fable, Chronicle, Debate Poetry, Epic and Heroic, Lyric, Middle English Parody/Burlesque, Religious and Allegorical Verse, and Romance. Expert contributors define the primary characteristics of each genre and discuss relevant literary works. Chapters provide extensive reviews of scholarship and close with detailed bibliographies. A more thorough bibliography of major scholarly studies closes the book.

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This book is so full of misinformation that I was reduced to spluttering insults on several occasions. Not only do the writers frequently (i.e. nearly only) support their statements by referring to another book also written/edited by them (Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature, same publisher, 2000), but their prose also resembles that of a bad high school essay. Although I stopped taking notes eventually, here are a select few examples of the especially offensive errors in the first pages of the book:
p. 4: vague definition of kennings: “figures of speech using description.”
p. 5: blatantly wrong summary of events in Beowulf -- I doubt that the writers have even read the poem!: “Grendel enters and kills one of Beowulf’s men. Beowulf, who has been sleeping in another house, follows the monster into a deep bog, where an epic battle occurs. The Geat slays the monster with the sword of a giant and cuts off his head, taking the prize with him back to Heorot. Grendel’s mother then comes to take the head back. After another great battle, Beowulf slays the mother and displays Grendel’s head in Heorot.”
p. 6: vague definition of elegies: “The elegy is a poem that is usually a meditation about a particular theme.”
p. 8: misspelling of names: Sigeferth is spelled Siegferth no fewer than three times in the same short paragraph! This is not the only example of such an error.
The list goes on. In fact, Prof. Andy Orchard, a renowned medievalist working at the University of Toronto, gave the book so poor a review (in the December 2005 volume of the journal, Notes and Queries), that I am surprised the university's libraries continue to stock the book. If you are interested in genuinely learning more about Old and Middle English, I encourage you to look elsewhere!


Old English and AngloNorman Literature
Religious and Allegorical Verse
Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English

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About the author (2002)

LAURA COONER LAMBDIN teaches Professional Communications in the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business. She and her husband have published 4 other books together: Chaucer's Pilgrims (1996), A Companion to Jane Austen Studies (2000), Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature (2000), and Camelot in the Nineteenth Century (2000).ROBERT THOMAS LAMBDIN is Associate Professor in the Transition Year Program at the University of South Carolina. He has authored or edited many publications on Old and Middle English literature.

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