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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter defines literary qualities of ballads, those sung narratives which are part of our anonymous literary heritage. The conventions of the genre are discussed, such as the imagery of ballads as well as their narrative structure, characters, diction, prosody, rhyme schemes, and modal melodies. Qualities associated with songs or stories transmitted orally, such as incremental repetition and formulaic epithets or descriptive commonplaces, are also discussed and examples are given. Some of the controversies about the origins and composition of ballads are sketched in, as well as a thumbnail history of when and how these popular narratives were first collected. Their prevalence in eighteenth-century British society is suggested. The subject matter of ballads is described and the plots of a number of typical ballads are given in brief.

Keywords: poetry, genre, ballads, popular poetry, folklore

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