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Layamon

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Layamon

A Brief Overview of Layamon, fl. c.1200, first prominent Middle English poet. He described himself as a humble priest attached to the church at Ernley (Arley Regis) near Radstone. His Brut is a chronicle in 32,341 short lines on the history of Britain, from the fall of Troy to the arrival of Brutus in Britain and continuing through the death of Cadwaladr. Layamon freely adapted the Brut of Wace and added material from other sources. His Anglo-Saxon narrative meter foreshadows the Middle English metrical system. This chronicle, important in the development of the Arthurian legend, gives one of the finest renderings of King Arthur as a national hero. It also contains the first mention of Lear and Cymbeline.

See his Brut, ed. by G. L. Brook and R. F. Leslie (1963).

Response to Layamon and His Work During His Lifetime

Layamon wrote during a time when Italian and French were talking over. Few Universities taught in the givent language of the people and instead taught French or Italian works. Layamons work gained popularity due to it's availibility and readibility of the people.

“Many Scholars believe the language of the poem to be intentionally archaized, rather than indicative of the Middle English commonly written and spoken during Layamon’s lifetime.” (Allen, 2006)

In the article, A Comprehensive Study of Layamon’s Brut, by Allen Rosamund, the reader learns about the time period in which Layamon was writing. This was a time in which the manuscript was recently invented which inspired more writings. This is also partly responsible for the popularity that Layamon’s Brut acquired. More and more people were becoming literate and therefore, more people were reading. The first European Universities were also founded at this time which further pushed the popularity of the Brut.

The Author does not talk just of Layamon’s popularity. Allen also talks of how Layamon expanded on parts of earlier forms of the book. This article does deep into detail about the need for power and growth. Many countries are fighting for control within themselves as well as with each other. There are lots of invasions and new people coming to power within their countries, families, and dynasties.

Current Response to Layamon and His Work

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Insular G - a form of the letter G, originally used by the Irish and eventually passed into Old English.

Yogh - The Middle English letter ʒ, used to represent the sound (y) and some velar consonants    similar to the ch in German Bach and the r in French France.

Thesis:“The full implications of the name that the poet mentions in his poem remain uncertain, but to refer to him as Lawman is practical in both speech and writing: it avoids the problems of finding a typeface with yogh and of producing a satisfactory pronunciation of that letter in this context, and it has the further recommendation of calling the poet by a form of his name that he himself would probably have recognized.”

The author, John Frankis, develops the thesis by talking about the fact that one of “the most interesting poems written in English between the Conquest and the fourteenth century is made slightly uneasy by problems concerning the title of the poem and the name of the author.” He is talking about Layamon and the four different forms his name is used in. These names, in no particular order, are as follows:

         Layamon

         Lazamon

         Lagamon

         Lawamon

Frankis continually develops his thesis by going through the history of the Insular G and how it came to be Yogh. He talks about how it was a rough transition and mentions multiple authors and scribes adapted. Due to this, there was a confusing period in which scholars could understand and interpret the differences but was unclear to others. Frankis went on to talk about how the Insular G and Yogh became almost interchangeable in written word. This intern led into a discussion of the different forms of Layamon and how, “Layamon was so much easier for both printers and readers and was accepted as the form for non-specialists.”

The article’s main points can best be summed up in the following quote. “If, as is widely assumed, …the poet presumably wrote his name using an archaic quasi-Old English spelling with an insular g , and the Caligula scribe (or an intervening copyist in the second half of the thirteenth century) then replaced it with the Middle English letter yogh that had developed out of this earlier , and the history of these two letter forms impinges on the matter of how the poet came to be referred to as Layamon.”

I believe the value of the article is that the transformation from the Insular G to Yogh “represents an improved systematization of spelling in relation to sound.” It teaches about the evolution of the written language and its relevance to literature throughout history. Layamon played a major part in the changing of the use of these letters during his lifetime. It has impacted other writters as well as the way in which his work is interpreted and disected.

The status of the authors work has not really changed over time. His work is still considered an important time piece and was a great tranformation from Le Roman de Brut by Wace. It is ironic, however, how people now find Layamon's Brut to be harder to understand then the language we use today. Layamon wrote in a particular way to cater to the people so they could understand better, ut as time went on it became harder to comprehend again.

"We learn from failure, not from success!"
-Dracula, Bram Stoker