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alliterative poetry, Middle English, Middle English literature


The merit of the Middle English alliterative poems Richard the Redelesss and Mum and the Sothsegger can be judged accurately only if they are approached as individual compositions. Ever since the Early English Text Society published the Mabel Day and Robert Steele edition of Mum and the Sothsegger in 1936, most scholars have uncritically accepted the single-poem theory these editors posited, regardless of how this adversely affected their analyses of the works. The argument for regarding Richard and Mum as fragments of one composition, begun in 1299 and finished sometime between 1403 and 1406, is, however, far less conclusive than the evidence against this theory. Indeed, the compulsion to regard these distinct poems as one actually impedes the process of assessing their possible contribution to Middle English literature, especially the contribution of the more artistically sophisticated Mum. J. P. Oakden's admonition over fifty years ago that these poems merited more scholarship than yet had been awarded them remains true today. One step toward remedying this situation is to examine Richard and Mum as separate compositions by the same author.