I’ve been studying Medieval Scots this year and it’s been pretty enlightening. The format for fiction in the middle ages was poetry (the novel didn’t really become popular in Scotland until Walter Scott’s Waverley), and since poetry is close to my heart, it’s been interesting to see the “Golden Age” of poetry. The language isn’t a far cry from the language found in Chaucer’s work only peppered with Scots (ok, a lot of Scots). As the course progresses we’ll get to see how medieval poetry evolved into what Burns was writing and since we studied the Romantic and Modern periods last year, the basic history and evolution of Scottish poetry will be complete.
What strikes me the most about it is just how confident it is. Contrary to how the middle ages are portrayed in film and television, they had an immense sense of themselves and their place in the world. They thought they had it all figured out, much like we do today.
Another thing I find fascinating about it is how it was written to be performed. Although poetry should always be recited aloud, in the middle ages most of the people who could read and write were those who were educated either at the expense of the church or because of their caste in society. Poetry was a form of entertainment and as such was read or performed aloud for people would could not read.
The sense of confidence about their place in the world can be seen in their writing. Here is a poem (one of my favourites) by one of the great makars Robert Henryson. It’s taken from his Morall Fabillis (Moral Fables) which are essentially a retelling of Aesop’s fables. Interestingly, originality was frowned upon in the middle ages, so much of the work was either a retelling of other stories, or at least in part claimed to be taken from someone elses work. One had to appeal to authority for their work to be taken seriously.
This piece has punctuation but I am assured, having not seen any of the original manuscripts, that there was little punctuation to no in the original. Or at least if there was punctuation it was a very different kind of punctuation than what we use today.
So have a wee read and see what ye think!