The Implicated Ballad

William Bernard McCarthy
2004 Oral Tradition  
We used to think of the classic oral ballad of the British Isles and English-speaking North America as ancient, timeless, eternal. Indeed, we used to think of most folklore genres as equally ancient, timeless, and eternal. But the evidence is mounting that as a genre in English and Scots oral tradition the classic ballad may be very time-bound. At its start, obviously, the genre could not have emerged before the beginning of vernacular stanzaic song, nor indeed before the English and Scots
more » ... lish and Scots languages emerged in the thirteenth century. The evidence of the written record (and the parallel written record of Scandinavian balladry) suggests, moreover, that the form originated as a literate entertainment of late medieval elite culture, and did not settle comfortably into oral tradition until the midsixteenth century, taking on at that time the oral characteristics that have been described by Andersen (1985), Buchan (1972), and others. Ironically, this first appearance of an oral ballad tradition in the British Isles is almost exactly contemporary with the rise of popular culture, and especially a popular press, in those islands. As a result, from the very beginning the tradition has been "contaminated" by popular broadside texts.
doi:10.1353/ort.2004.0071 fatcat:ixflhrpj3fbgji5le2g47afqoq