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Oral-Formulaic Research in Old English Studies: I

Alexandra Hennessey Olsen

Oral Tradition Volume 1, Number 3

The extant corpus of Old English poetry is small, yet during the late twentieth century scholarly studies thereof have been numerous. In particular, the corpus has been the focus of scholarly controversy centering on the means whereby the poems were composed and made known to their audience. Were the poems composed orally or in writing? Were they improvised during performance or composed beforehand and memorized? Were they heard by their audience or read in manuscript form? Was the most important infl uence on their style and content a native tradition deriving from the Common Germanic past or a learned Latin rhetorical tradition? What is the relationship between their possible orality and their obvious aesthetic excellence?

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