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Music philosophy, Music performance, Music genre, Sir Orfeo, Middle English romances


The Middle English romance Sir Orfeo is a dynamic and creative retelling of the classical Orpheus myth in which the wife of the English king, Orfeo, is abducted by fairies but eventually restored to her position and husband through Orfeo’s musical prowess. While any retelling of the Orpheus myth would necessarily contain references to music and would, therefore, likely use music as an important cue within the text, the poet of Sir Orfeo displays a sophisticated understanding of musical philosophy, composition and performance, as well as the Breton lay genre. The intersection of these elements all work together not only to create the impression of an actual performance within a written text, but also to emphasize the nature of music as a representation of cosmic harmony. By weaving music throughout the narrative, the poet reminds the reader that even in Orfeo’s most desperate moments there is order and harmony in the universe, an implied foreshadowing of the happy ending, itself wrought through the power of music.