Role of Medieval Scottish Poetry in Creating Scottish Identity

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This book examines medieval Scottish literature in light of theories on national identity, exploring how notions of ethnicity, language, class, kinship, history, folklore, and writing influence the ways Scots identify themselves. With chapters devoted to John Barbour’s Bruce, Sir Richard Holland’s Buke of the Howlat, and Blind Hary’s Wallace, Scottish identity is seen as a textual construction, the product of medieval writers’ tales of Scottish heroes such as Bruce, Douglas and Wallace. Barbour’s historical romance portrays the struggle to establish Bruce as king of Scotland as a popular national struggle, while Holland’s allegorical beast fable suggests that there were competing identities (familial, baronial, royal) in Scotland. Blind Hary’s Wallace, an anti-feudal outlaw tale which has become a national epic, redefines Scottishness in light of heroism and ethnicity. These three poems illustrate three different stages of the medieval development of Scottish national consciousness, a consciousness that broke away from the limited confines of feudal ideology and began to embrace a diversity of identities which existed in Scotland during the later Middle Ages.


“ ... one thing is clear: the debate over Scottish national identity, and its roots in the Middle Ages, requires both a nuanced and unblinkered treatment. This is what Dr. Stefan Hall here provides in his discussion of three major works of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Barbour’s Bruce, Holland’s Howlat, and Blind Hary’s Wallace, seen as ‘three different stages of the development of Scottish national consciousness ... Nuanced though it is, Dr. Hall’s work nevertheless has a clear direction and conclusion, Scottish national identity was indeed very largely a ‘textual construction’--Barbour’s and Hary’s works were and have remained popular, inspiring, influential, at the root of later Scottish literature. At the same time, the texts could not have been constructed without input from popular sentiment, pre-existing legend, and oral tradition. Hall pays particular attention to folkloric elements and oral residue within these literary and by intention historical poems. If the texts create tradition, then tradition has also created the texts ...” (from the Preface) Professor T.A. Shippey, Saint Louis University

“This engaging book is a disciplined and readable study of Scottish nationalism, which surveys the afterlife of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and James Douglas in the making of Scottishness from the fourteenth century down to the present day ... This micro-literary history of medieval Scottish nationalism is sure to become a standard work in late medieval studies and deserves to be widely known among scholars of nationhood and post-colonialism. It will also be of general interest to historians, folklorists, and students of minority literatures.” – Professor Nick Haydock, University of Puerto Rico

“Twentieth-century studies of nationalism and national identity regularly use the rather prickly subject of Scotland and the Scots as the broad, though uncomfortable, platform from which they dive into their larger themes. Less common, however, are works that cover in any detail medieval Scottish nationalism, and those that do, tend to oversimplify the subject by casting it in Marxist terminology and emphasizes the class conflict that one so readily finds in the tumultuous Scottish Middle Ages. It is, therefore, refreshing to find that Professor Hall’s study serves as a corrective to such scholarly myopia by tracing the influences of social structure, history, folklore and literature upon Scottish national identity ...” – Professor Michael S. Nagy, South Dakota State University

“Professor Hall’s carefully researched and thoroughly readable book examines the fascinating question of Scottish national identity, particularly in its evolution from antiquarian reconstructions of literary and historical works of the Middle Ages. More than a tradition of haggis, bagpipes, tartans and soldierly courage, a compelling sense of Scottish consciousness emerges from the ‘textual truths’ of the poems examined by Dr. Hall ...” – Professor E.L. Risden, St. Norbert College

Table of Contents

Preface by T.A. Shippey
1. Medieval Manifestation of Scottish National Identity
2. John Barbour’s Bruce
3. Sir Richard Holland’s Buke of the Howlat and the Black Douglases
4. Blind Hary’s Wallace

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