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12. Late Secular Poetry

Shaun Hughes

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00015.x


Icelandic secular poetry (and prose) of the late Middle Ages has long had a dubious reputation, stemming from the literary-critical, political and even religious assumptions that privileged the literature produced before 1300. After this time it is assumed that not only did Iceland lose its political independence, but it also lost the capacity to produce literature of any memorable quality, an ability it was not to regain until the nineteenth century. The fact that much of the poetry of the period remains unpublished or inadequately edited is only part of the problem. Much of the verse of the period is produced in accordance with aesthetic principles that privilege form as much as or even more than content, thus running counter to the prevailing poetic aesthetic in the west as it has developed since the Enlightenment. This negative reaction is finally being reassessed, in a way that reveals the secular poetry of this period to be remarkable both for its innovation and for its diversity of forms and genres. There is general agreement that the late Middle Ages (Icelandic miðöld , but more recently síðmiðöld ) begin in the fourteenth century, but there is less consistency in dating when they end. Some opt for 1550 and the victory of the Reformation in Iceland. Others prefer 1600, when Lutheran sensibilities have become well established. However, here the time span will be extended ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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