The pious formulae of the Middle English romances : a catalogue of stylistic study
The prayers and oaths of the Middle English verse romances draw upon a range of pious formulae. These stock invocations rehearse key episodes from salvation history. Such formulae are widely viewed as mere line-fillers and they are rarely credited with stylistic influence. Yet the startling power of their apposite usage in charged narrative moments prompts further investigation. The thesis aims to demonstrate how the use of pious formulae in the romances is not inevitably mechanical. It comprises a catalogue and stylistic study of such formulae. The catalogue records all examples appearing in a single witness to each of the pre-1500 verse romances. By furnishing information on prosodic context, it offers a reference tool with which to measure the extent of technical determination in the appearance of a formula. The thesis analyses this material and advances claims for the aesthetic value of pious formulae. Chapter 1 reviews the evidence of the catalogue. It is shown how pious formulae embody an impressive range of devotional imagery. Chapter 2 illustrates that cognate formulae are widely employed in Middle English religious literature. It is shown how therein they exhibit a theological significance and a stylistic saliency. Chapter 3 shows how intermittent reflections of this serious stylistic usage are apparent in the pious romance, Guy of Warwick. Chapters 4 and 5 show how the affective resonance of such formulae is consistently exploited in the Stanzaic Morte Arthur and William of Palerne respectively. Chapter 6 provides a brief summary. It concludes that the pious formulae of the romances can convey a strong aesthetic charge. They serve as more than mere line-fillers. Three appendices are included. Appendix A explores the relation between pious formulae and medieval profane oaths. Appendix B lists the variant readings of the formulae of four romances. Appendix C comprises the catalogue.