AbstractThe present study consists of nine sections, of which the first four appear in this issue. Section I, "Oral and Written," considers the questions of whether Old English poetry was composed orally or in writing and whether it was presented to a listening audience or to an audience of readers. It also examines questions of lay literacy during the Old English period and of the nature of the reaction of a listening audience to traditional poetry. Section II, "The Oral-Formulaic Theory," reviews the origin and development of the study of oral composition in Old English, including nineteenth-century Higher Criticism, the study of formulaic structure in Homeric and Serbo-Croatian epic, and the application of the oral-formulaic theory to Old English literature beginning with the work of Albert B. Lord and Francis P. Magoun, Jr. Section III, "The Formula," reviews definitions that have been proposed for the basic units of oral composition, the formula and the formulaic system, and treats metrics and the study of particular formulas and formulaic systems. Section IV, "Themes and Type-Scenes," studies the level of oral composition above the formula, discussing the definitions that have been proposed for the terms "theme" and "type-scene" and reviewing the literature that has identified and described various Old English themes and type-scenes.--Page 549.
A medievalist and comparatist, Alexandra Hennessey Olsen (University of Denver) has been especially interested in the blend of Christian Latin learning and Germanic oral tradition that underlies Old English poetry. Her books on Guthlac of Croyland (1981) and Cynewulf (Speech, Song, and Poetic Craft, 1984) typify her approach.
Oral Tradition, 1/3 (1986): 548-606.