tail-rhyme romances


tail-rhyme romances
   A tail-rhyme stanza might take many forms, but most typically it consists of a rhyming pair of long lines followed by a shorter line (the “tail”). The three-line pattern is repeated, with the third lines rhyming, to form a six-line stanza sometimes known as a “romance six.” This stanza might rhyme aabaab or aabccb, with the b-rhyme lines having three stressed syllables and the other lines having four. A stanza might also contain 12 lines, basically combining the romance sixes into a longer stanza rhyming aabaabccbddb, or aabccbddbeeb. The term “tail-rhyme” itself is an English translation of the Latin rythmus caudatus (in French it was called rime couée). Tail-rhyme stanzas were common in a large group of MIDDLE ENGLISH metrical ROMANCES from the 14th and 15th centuries. While some English romances were written in ALLITERATIVE VERSE, and others in rhymed octosyllabic (eightsyllable) couplets, many are tail-rhyme romances. A number of these seem to have been composed or circulated by wandering MINSTRELS, and so may have been intended for an audience of the middle class or the lower gentry, rather than the more courtly audience of a more sophisticated poet like CHAUCER or GOWER. Some of the better-known tail-rhyme romances are SIR ISUMBRAS, BEVIS OF HAMPTON, HORN CHILDE, and GUY OF WARWICK from the early 14th century, the last two found in the famous Auchinleck manuscript, which may once have been in the possession of Chaucer. Late 14th-century tail-rhyme romances include The EARL OF TOULOUSE, LIBEAUS DESCONUS, SIR LAUNFAL, and IPOMADON—the longest of the romances at 8,890 lines. Tail-rhyme romances from the 15th century include The TURKE AND SIR GAWAIN and The WEDDYNG OF SYR GAWEN, both from the northern part of England. Most of these are in 12-line stanzas.
   The best known tail-rhyme romance in Middle English is Chaucer’s parody of the genre, The TALE OF SIR THOPAS, an unfinished romance in six-line stanzas, some rhyming aabaab and others rhyming aabccb. Chaucer found much to burlesque in the genre, and made particularly effective use of the romance of Guy of Warwick, but he seems to have been familiar with all of the romances from the Auchinleck manuscript and several others as well.
   At least a few dozen tail-rhyme romances have survived from Middle English, and it has been suggested that there was actually a school of minstrels in 14th-century East Anglia producing tailrhyme romances. In any case, the popularity of these kinds of romances waned after the 15th century, although most modern poets have still made use of varieties of the tail-rhyme stanza, as, for example, Shelley does in his poem “To Night.”
   Bibliography
   ■ Benson, Larry D., ed. The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1987.
   ■ Trounce, A. McI. “The English Tail-Rhyme Romances,” Medium Aevum 1 (1932), 87–108, 168–82; 2 (1933), 34–57; 3 (1934), 30–50.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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