The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Balaban, John. "Blind Harry and the Wallace." 8 (1974): 241-51.
Traditionally, Blind Harry is Henricus Caecus and the author of Schir William Wallace. Though some of the evidence against Harry's authorship may be explained away, other problems are not so easily dismissed. That Harry's name is not mentioned in the earliest copy of The Wallace may result from the fact that this copy has no title page, or Ramsay, the scribe, may have left it off when making his copy. John Mair, in Historia majoris Brittaniae (De gestibus Scotorum) first mentions Blind Harry. From what scholars know of Mair, they can estimate that Blind Harry lived in the last half of the fifteenth century. As the writer of Wallace states in the eleventh book, his source is a Latin book by John Blair, perhaps the same one who serves Wallace in the tale, but this book most likely never existed and is the writer's nod to authority. The writer of Wallace does not state that he is blind, and metrical patterning suggests that this poem could not have been recited from memory. Harry seems to have been quite familiar with Chaucer, imitating metrical patterns, descriptions, and tone. Thus, the traditional Blind Harry does not seem to be the writer of Wallace. Scholars must also note that medieval writers often referred to the devil as "Harry," so the name "Blind Harry" must be an alias. The historical inaccuracies in Wallace serve to popularize it, making William Wallace seem a god instead of a rebel.
Scheps, Walter. "Middle English Poetic Usage and Blind Harry's Wallace." 4 (1970): 291-302.
Oral poetry differs from written work in that a formulaic phrase is the smallest "meaningful unit" in oral works, but in written work it is the word (292). A formulaic phrase may be altered only as long as its meter and meaning remain constant. Some phrases can be changed while others cannot. Written works may be tested for oral origins. Often, however, poets who write use oral formulas. Instead of suggesting that these poets composed orally and then wrote down their work, readers may look for the artistic end these formulas serve. Examination of Blind Harry's use of the common "fire-flint" alliteration illustrates this point. He uses the oral formula in the internal rhyme common to ballads, but in a way an oral poet could not. Where Harry and other poets borrow oral formulas out of slackness, they demonstrate one of the greatest differences between oral and written poetry. Oral poetry depends on formulaic expressions for survival; written work depends on a rejection of stock phrases and formulas (originality) for survival. Thus, written work like Chaucer's has little influence on oral poetry. Oral poetry may also be set to music with favorable results in a way written work may not. Thus, we cannot criticize primarily oral work for repetitiveness, poor rhythm, and loose structure whereas we may criticize written work for these same qualities.