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Layamon's Brut (ca. 1190), also known as the Chronicle of Britain and often called simply Brut, is a Middle English poem compiled and recast by the English priest Layamon. It is named for Britain's mythical founder, Brutus of Troy. It is contained in the MS. Cotton Caligula A ix, written in the first quarter of the 13th century, and in the Cotton Otho C xiii, about fifty years later (though in this edition it is shorter). Both exist in the British Library.

The Brut is 16,095 lines long and narrates the history of Britain. It is largely based on the Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut by Wace, which is in turn inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, though is longer than both and includes an enlarged section on the life and exploits of King Arthur. The rhyming style is the alliterative verse line style commonly used in Middle English poetry. The two halves of the alliterative lines are often linked by rhyme as well as by alliteration.

Layamon's Brut (c. 1215) is a history of England in verse written in a form of Middle English, although this is at times bastardized to include more modern Anglo-Norman forms, and at times, deliberately "archaistic" Saxon forms which were quaint even by Anglo-Saxon standards. Although based on the earlier Roman de Brut written in Anglo-Norman by Wace (incorrectly known as Robert Wace), itself based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae, the poem is itself the first historiography written in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Layamon's poem is also remarkable for its abundant Anglo-Saxon vocabulary; the scholar Roger Loomis counted only 150 words derived from Anglo-Norman in the 16,000 long-lines. Many scholars believe the language of the poem to be intentionally archaised, rather than indicative of the Middle English commonly written and spoken during Layamon's lifetime.

The versification of the Brut has proven extremely difficult to characterise. Written in a loose alliterative style, and sporadically deploying rhyme, as well as a caesural pause between the hemistichs of a line, it is perhaps closer to the rhythmical prose of Ælfric of Eynsham than verse per se. Especially in comparison with later alliterative writings such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman, Layamon's alliterating verse is difficult to analyse, seemingly avoiding the more formalised styles of the later poets.

Layamon's Brut remains one of the best extant examples of early Middle English[1]. During an era in English history when most prose and poetry were composed in French, including Wace's Roman de Brut, Layamon main resource for the Brut, and the lais of Marie de France, Layamon wrote to his illiterate, impoverished religious audience in Worcestershire. [2]
In 1216, around the time Layamon was likely scribing this work, King Henry III of England came to reign. Henry regarded himself as an 'Englishman,' unlike many of his recent predecessors, and transitioned his kingdom away from more than 50 years of feudalism and the Old French dialects that had ruled the country's cultural endeavors[3].

Several original passages in the poem—or at least in accordance with the present knowledge of extant texts from the Middle Ages — suggest Layamon is interested in carving out the history of the Britons as the people 'who first possessed the land of the English'[2]. His imitations in the Brut of certain stylistic and prosodic features of Old English alliterative verse show a knowledge and interest in preserving its conventions as well. [3] Two copies of the manuscript are kept in the British Museum. An authoritative edition of the Brut is the parallel text edition by Brook and Leslie. It includes the account by both the Caligula and the Otho manuscripts on facing pages. Published by EETS, the first volume was issued in 1963 and the second in 1978.

Further reading

References

  1. ^ Solopova, Elizabeth, and Stuart D. Lee. Key Concepts in Medieval Literature. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Everett, Dorothy. (1978) "Layamon and the Earliest Middle English Alliterative Verse." Essays on Middle English Literature. Ed. Patricia Kean. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,.
  3. ^ a b Ackerman, Robert W. (1966) Backgrounds to Medieval English Literature. 1st. New York: Random House, Inc.
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Brut (ca. 1190) is a Middle English poem compiled and recast by the English priest Layamon. It is named for Britain's mythical founder, Brutus of Troy. It is contained in the MS. Cotton Caligula A ix, written in the first quarter of the 13th century, and in the Cotton Otho C xiii, about fifty years later (though in this edition it is shorter). Both exist in the British Museum.

The Brut is 16,095 lines long and narrates the history of Britain. It is largely based on the Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut by Wace, which is in turn inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, though is longer than both and includes an enlarged section on the life and exploits of King Arthur. The rhyming style is the alliterative verse line style commonly used in Middle English poetry.

The two halves of the alliterative lines are often linked by rhyme as well as by alliteration.

Further reading


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