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Title: Stress, etymology and metre in four Canterbury Tales
Author: Kurtz, Heidi
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis investigates the prosody of Middle English and how the rhythmic structures of the language are manifested in metrical verse. I examine how tension is created through the matching or mis-matching of lexical stress with the expected metrical template and test an analysis proposed here to empirically measure different degrees of tension in verse. The analysis is applied to four selected tales from the Hengwrt manuscript of Chaucer's Canterburry Tales, as well as to selections of verse with known metrical structures from later periods of English in order to corroborate the analysis results with a series of control samples. The aim is to examine the metrical structure of Chaucer's verse in relation to how sequences Of lexically stressed syllables, syllable sequences based on the stress patterns in polysyllabic words, tit between the metrical boundaries of line beginnings and line ends. I ask if there is a correlation between the best-fit of lexical stress sequences and what has been established about the poem's metrical structure without violating that structure. It is this degree of correlation that gives a measure of metrical tension. The methodology developed for this analysis involves identifying the etymological origin and, in turn, the lexical stress pattern of each word in the text, then substituting the resulting lexis with either etymological or stress markers. This allows both the lexical stress and etymological patterns to be mapped throughout the text. After the words in the texts were substituted with their corresponding markers, a sub-corpus of purely Germanic lines, in which lexical stress is marc stable in late Middle English, is identified and analysed for comparison alongside the complete texts. 10 addition to the lexical stress test, a test is carried out on the lines after the stress substitution, confirming the degree to which they had a predominantly iambic rhythm. The results from the etymological analysis are striking. The etymological analysis shows that the placement of Latinate words is greatest at line-final and pre-caesural positions, and that that there are correlative concentrations of Germanic vocabulary at line-initial and post-caesural positions. The mirroring of Latinate and Germanic concentrations of vocabulary at caesural positions gives additional evidence to support the metrical role of caesura I marks within the Hengwrt manuscript, despite the fact that the marks were added by a later hand. The results of the analysis provide clear evidence for the existence of caesura in verse. The results of the stress analysis arc more problematic. On closer examination, the methodology for identifying label ling mismatches across the lines suffered from a lack of specificity. The analysis showed a slight preference for s-initial stress feet which could be used to indicate a degree of tension or counterpoint in verse. The results arc made more meaningful by associating specific mismatches with specific positions in the lines. In light of this, several suggestions were made on how the analysis could be improved and used to identify bracketing mismatches across the lines. The modified analysis will allow us to objectively quantify the tensions that arise between the interaction of trochaic and iambic lexical patterns and the metrical template of a given text. The approach developed in this thesis, j believe, brings us closer to answering the question to what degree has a poet developed metrical tension in his or her verse, and how has that tension been manifested while at the same time fulfilling metrical expectations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available