Alliterative Meter and English Literary History 1700–2000, 1700–2000
This essay investigates the long critical history connecting alliterative meter and English literary history. The alliterative meter was deselected from the active repertoire of English verse forms in the middle of the sixteenth century, but the professional study of alliterative verse did not commence until the eighteenth century. Thereafter, the story of alliterative verse and the story of alliterative metrics intertwined one another, as successive generations of prosodists sought to make sense of the form, history, and cultural meaning of a defunct English meter. From 1700 to 2000, perceptions of decline served to organize metrical study and literary history and also to correlate these areas of inquiry. The conjunction of metrical history and literary history remains implicit in much scholarship on alliterative verse from the eighteenth century onward, but this essay argues that the two fields have often been regarded as congruent. The central section of the essay focuses on the braiding of political, literary, linguistic, and metrical histories in the critical commentary on alliterative verse, 1700–2000, and on the way that metaphors and periodization structure critical inquiry. In pointing toward the continuity of the alliterative tradition once again, more recent metrical scholarship gives a new perspective onto disciplinary history.