Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England)

  • Publish Date: 2006-12-18
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe
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For many years there has been lively debate about the 'orality' or 'literacy' of Old English verse: about whether the Old English verse which has come down to us is primarily the product of oral composition or primarily written, insofar as it is transmitted only in manuscript. The present book throws light on this question by drawing our attention to a largely unexplored body of evidence, namely the graphic realization of Old English verse in the surviving manuscripts - how it is set out spatially, how it is marked up for reading with punctuation of various kinds. Professor O'Keeffe shows that by the late tenth century scribes had apparently ceased to alter the poems which they were transcribing by recourse to residual orality, and had begun to copy verbatim the poetic text before them. The entire orality-literacy debate has been lifted on to a new plane; the book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the way Old English verse has come down to us.