Monday, 25 March 2013


Ballads are short, anonymous  narrative  poems or songs which have been preserved and elaborated by oral transmission  over the centuries;  many have been passed from one country to another  with suitable  modifications  to local needs. This happened to many Irish and  Scottish  ballads which sprang up  in modified  forms in America and Australia.
Because of their highly  mutable  oral form,  it is almost impossible  to date  most  ballads.  After Caxton  first set up the printing press in 1477, ballads spread rapidly.
They were an essentially popular tradition of the unschooled and illiterate, which recalled  the early oral verse  narratives of the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons.
Most ballads were set to music, as they were meant to be sung  rather than read.  Thus ballads  are usually in simple quatrains (four-line stanzas) with a repeated  refrain (the repetition of one or more lines).  They are simple in form, plot  and language,  so as to make them easier to remember. 

Ballads can be classified in many different categories, from  border ballads  about the rivalry between the English and the Scottish people, to ballads of outlaws celebrating  the lives of outlaws or criminals such as  the cycle of  Robin Hood,  to  ballads of  magic  recounting  stories about fairies,  witches and  ghosts, to ballads  of love and domestic tragedy, to town  ballads which served as a polemical commentary  on difficult  urban conditions.
Here you can find useful material for revision.

Lord Randal  is a traditional  Scottish ballad which  tells "with a certain malicious  humour"  the sad tale of a noble called Lord Randal. It probably derives  from  the late  Middle Ages.

Geordie is a famous English ballad  which presents a rather complex narrative: the story-teller,  or  narrator, meets a young  woman who is lamenting the fate of her lover. 
Its  date of composition is unknown, it may be dated to the late  Middle Ages; it is still widely known today and often sung in traditional as well as modernized versions.

Here  you can download a worksheet about the medieval ballad Geordie.  

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