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Ælfric’s Rhythmical Prose and the Study of Old English Metre

Rafael J. Pascual

English Studies, 2014

A decade ago, Thomas A. Bredehoft designed a new theory of Old English metre that classified Ælfric of Eynsham’ s rhythmical-alliterative texts as verse. The present article submits Bredehoft’ s metrical theory to critical scrutiny by means of three case studies.The first deals with Bredehoft’ s case for simplicity in metrical argumentation; the second assesses the theoretical validity of Bredehoft’ s exclusively syllabic substitute for thtraditional four-position principle; and the third focuses on Bredehoft’s metrical system for late Old English metre and its application to Ælfric’s rhythmical-alliterative texts.These three case studies demonstrate that Bredehoft’s theory is empirically insufficient,since it is unable to account for significant distributional patterns that occur in the surviving manuscripts. Bredehofts claim about Ælfric’s rhythmical texts is therefore devoid of meaning, since it is predicated on the untenable principles of his metrical theory. The essay concludes by characterizing Ælfric’s rhythmical-alliterative style as a particular manner of prose composition informed by the didactic temper that obtained during Æthelred’s reign.

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