Sir Orfeo: Introduction


1 For information on the MS see the facsimile edition, The Auchinleck Manuscript: National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS. 19.2.1, intro., Derek Pearsall and I. C. Cunningham (London: Scholar Press, 1977); E. Kölbing, "Vier Romanzen-Handschriften," Englische Studien 7 (1884), 177-201; and A. J. Bliss, "Notes on the Auchinleck Manuscript," Speculum 26 (1951), 652-58.

2 See Laura Hibbard Loomis' articles: "Chaucer and the Breton Lays of the Auchinleck Manuscript," Studies in Philology 38 (1941), 14-33; "Chaucer and the Auchinleck Manuscript: Thopas and Guy of Warwick," in Essays and Studies in Honor of Carleton Brown (New York: New York University Press, 1940), pp. 111-28; and "The Auchinleck MS and a Possible London Bookshop of 1330-40," PMLA 57 (1942), 595-627. See also Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), pp. 486-559.

3 The passages from these texts are cited in Sir Orfeo, ed. A. J. Bliss (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), pp. xxxi-xxxii.

4 See Emmet Robbins' essay, "Famous Orpheus," in Orpheus: The Metamorphosis of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), pp. 3-23. See also Joan M. Erikson, Legacies: Prometheus, Orpheus, and Socrates (New York: Norton, 1993); William K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement, rev. ed. (New York: Norton, 1966; rpt. Princeton University Press, 1993); Elizabeth A. Newby, A Portrait of the Artist: the Legends of Orpheus and Their Use in Medieval and Renaissance Aesthetics, Harvard Dissertations in Comparative Literature (New York: Garland, 1987); The "Vulgate" Commentary on Ovid's Metamorphoses: The Creation Myth and the Story of Orpheus, ed. Frank T. Coulson (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1991); Le Mythe d'Orphée aux Animaux et ses Prolongements dans le Judaisme, le Christianisme et l'Islam, ed. Andre Dupont-Sommer (Rome: Accademia nazionale dei lincei, 1975).

5 See the comprehensive study by John Block Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970); also Klaus Heitmann, "Orpheus im Mittelalter," Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 45 (1963), 253-94; Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis, "Robert Henryson's Orpheus and Eurydice and the Orpheus Traditions of the Middle Ages," Speculum 41 (1966), 643-55. Orpheus, the Metamorphosis of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), especially the essays by Eleanor Irwin, "The Songs of Orpheus and the New Song of Christ," pp. 51-62); and Patricia Vicari, "Sparagmos: Orpheus among the Christians," pp. 63-83.

6 Jeff Rider, "Receiving Orpheus in the Middle Ages: Allegorization, Remythification and Sir Orfeo," Papers on Literature & Language 24 (1988), 356. On the complex relationship of medieval authors to tradition, see Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987). Alexandre Leupin suggests that "medieval writers show neither idolatrous respect for a tradition . . . nor the anguish of innovation conceived as rupture: at every turn the old is rejuvenated within the new, and the new is the incessant transformation of a textual 'already there"'; see his chapter, "Absolute Reflexivity: Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Poetria Nova," in his book, Barbarolexis: Medieval Writing and Sexuality, trans. Kate M. Cooper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 22.

7 "King of textuality" is a phrase and an idea developed by Roy Michael Liuzza in his article, "Sir Orfeo: Sources, Traditions, and the Poetics of Performance," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 21 (1991), 269-84.

8 The Latin reads: Dic allegorice quod Orpheus, filius solis, est Christus, filius dei patris, qui a principio Euridicem .i. animam humanam per caritatem & amorem duxit ipsamque per specialem prerogativam a principio sibi coniunxit. Verumtamen serpens, diabolus, ipsam novam nuptam .i. de novo creatam, dum flores colligeret .i. de pomo vetito appeteret, per temptationem momordit, & per peccatum occidit, & finaliter ad infernum transmisit. Quod videns Orpheus Christus in infernum personaliter voluit descendere & sic uxorem suam .i. humanam naturam rehabuit, ipsamque de regno tenebrarum ereptam ad superos secum duxit, dicens illud Canticorum .ii. "Surge, propera amica mea & veni." Pierre Bersuire, Metamorphosis Ovidiana, moraliter explanata (Paris, 1509), fol. LXXXv. Both English and Latin passages are edited and cited in Friedman, pp. 127-28.

9 The Latin reads: Vel dic quod Orpheus est peccator, qui scilicet morsu serpentis, .i. diaboli temptatione, uxorem suam .i. animam perdit dum indiscrete ad colligendum flores .i. ad congreganda fluxibilia temporalia intendit, sed tamen ipsam spiritualiter recuperat quando ad inferos per considerationem descendit & per orationem dulciter modulatur. Solus enim timor infernalis supplicii facit de vitiis poenitere & et sic facit uxorem per gratiam rehaberi . . . Verumtamen multi sunt qui quia retro per amorem temporalium respiciunt, & tanquam canis ad vomitum mentaliter revertuntur, & ipsam uxorem scilicet animam recuperatam nimis diligunt ita quod concupiscentiis eius favent & ad ipsam mentis oculos retrovertunt ipsam iterum amitunt & infernus eam recipit. Io. xii. "Qui amat animam suam perdet eam" (fol. LXXIIIr). Cited and translated in Friedman, pp. 128-29.

10 Michael Masi, "The Christian Music of Sir Orfeo," Classical Folia 28 (1974), 19. Masi also points to John Hollander, The Untuning of the Sky (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), pp. 31-36.

11 Thierry of Saint-Trond's poem is cited in Peter Dronke, "The Return of Eurydice," Classica et Mediaevalia 23 (1962), 199; and in Friedman, pp. 165-66. The Latin reads: Numine sic artis fidens industria mentis, / Fortiter extorsit a Styge quod voluit. / Sic ars naturam vicit, studio mediante, / Virtuti dominae cedere cuncta probans. The full text of the poem is in F. W. Otto, Commentarii critici in codices Bibliothecae Academicae Gissensis Graecos et Latinos (Giessen: G. F. Heyeri, 1842), pp. 163-65.

12 Cited in Friedman, pp. 110-11. The Latin reads: Orpheum intelligitur pars intellectiva instructa sapientia et eloquentia . . . . Iste autem per suavitatem citharae id est eloquentiae impies brutales e silvestres reduxit ad normam rationis. See also Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle, Lib. I, Lec. xxi.

13 Roy M. Liuzza, "Sir Orfeo: Sources, Traditions, and the Poetics of Performance," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 21 (1991), 282.

14 Jeff Rider, p. 361.
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Sir Orfeo: Introduction

The Auchinleck manuscript, a tremendously important anthology dating from about 1330-40, contains the earliest known Middle English version of Sir Orfeo. The manuscript was apparently compiled for affluent but non-aristocratic readers.[1] It includes a wide variety of materials, many of which are extant only in this MS; all the texts of the Auchinleck are in English. The manuscript provides considerable information on literacy and book-production in the early fourteenth century, and it has received particular attention because there is some evidence which suggests that Chaucer may have owned it. [2]

The author of Sir Orfeo is unknown. The language of the text suggests that it was composed in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries within the Westminster-Middlesex area. No immediate source for the poem is known. Most scholars assume that an Old French source existed at one time. References to a musical lay of Orpheus can be found in several Old French texts: the twelfth-century romance, Floire et Blanceflor refers to "le lai d'Orphey" (line 855); the Lai de l'Espine mentions "Le lai lor sone d'Orphei" (line 181); and the Vulgate Prose Lancelot indicates the existence of a "lay d'orfay." [3] Some scholarly efforts have been made to find connections between Sir Orfeo and a number of other texts, including Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, King Alfred's Old English translation of Boethius, Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium, and more. None of these is conclusive. What is certain is that Sir Orfeo presents a Breton Lay on a classical theme. The Orpheus myth is, of course, well known throughout the Western world. Whether as lover, musician, or priestly wisdom figure, Orpheus can be found represented in ancient Greek art and literature from as early as the sixth century B.C., and the narrative can be found in a number of different ancient cultures. [4] Orpheus is also well-represented by authors known to the medieval world, including Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Boethius, the anonymous author of the Hellenistic Jewish Testament of Orpheus, Clement of Alexandria, Fulgentius, and later William of Conches, Nicholas Trivet, Boccaccio, the anonymous author of the Ovide Moralisé, Pierre Bersuire, Christine de Pizan, and Robert Henryson, just to name a few. [5] The power of the Orpheus myth to resonate through time and within both classical and medieval literatures has led to a number of divergent interpretations of the lay of Sir Orfeo; it has been read within Christian contexts, Celtic-folktale contexts, as well as within historical, philosophical, psychological, intertextual, and poetic contexts.

The basic narrative of unassuaged grief and the image of Orpheus the magical or shamanistic harper originates in classical literature. For the late Middle Ages, the best known classical sources would have been Ovid's Metamorphoses X and Virgil's Georgics IV (as well as the numerous commentaries on them). Through medieval commentaries, Christian re-readings of the narrative became well-known: 1) Orpheus's backward glance and his consequent loss of Eurydice becomes emblematic for temptation and sin; or 2) Orpheus becomes a Christ figure and the tale foretells redemption. The lay of Sir Orfeo blends these received cultural materials with both Celtic and Germanic folk materials, especially the Celtic journey to the Otherworld, thereby producing what Jeff Rider terms "a hybrid super-myth." [6]

Sir Orfeo situates the action not in classical Greece but in medieval England. Heurodis is not actually killed (as she is in most classical and medieval versions); she is, instead, abducted by the fairy king so that she resembles "the taken" mortals common in Irish aithed narratives. Once Heurodis is taken, Orfeo (anachronistically a ruler of a medieval kingdom) appoints his loyal steward to rule in his stead. Additionally, he instructs the people to elect a parliament and name a new king if they ever learn of his death. Donning the pilgrim's cloak, he renounces his kingdom and all his wealth and retreats into self-imposed poverty and exile. The only object he carries with him from his courtly life into his new life is his harp. When he plays his harp, "whereon was al his gle" (line 267), he comforts himself and charms the beasts of nature. After ten years, he happens to spy Heurodis riding a palfrey with the fairy king's hunting party and follows after her. Here we do not travel to Hades or Hell but to the Celtic Otherworld "in at a roche" (line 347). Knocking at the gate of the Otherworld palace, Orfeo, dressed as a begging minstrel, gets past the porter, past the tableau of the dead, and offers to sing for the fairy king. When the fairy king offers the "rash boon" found so frequently in folklore narratives, Orfeo sees his chance and asks for Heurodis. With a bit of hesitation, the fairy king relents and the two mortals are reunited. The fairy king places no taboo about looking back on Orfeo as he does in the classical version. Instead of the traditional backward glance which loses Eurydice forever, the fourteenth-century Breton lay hero leads his Heurodis back home. Disguising himself once more as a beggar, he tests his steward's loyalty and regains his throne.

As with many Breton lays, this narrative recreates folklore motifs: the journey to the Otherworld, the man who loses his wife/lover, the rash boon, the exile-return pattern, and the testing of the loyal steward. The lay creates a double narrative in which the loss of queen precipitates the loss of the kingdom, and the private recuperation of the queen precipitates the public recuperation of the kingdom. It has often been noted that the poem's structure is built upon antitheses: loss and restoration, sorrow and joy, wealth and poverty, the calm beauty of the lush, warm garden and the grief of the stark, cold or indifferent "wildernes," the elegance of the fairy world and the macabre tableau of the death courtyard, the brutality of nature and the civilizing force of art. But contrast is also problematic. More than one scholar has noticed the way the eerie Otherworld seems to mirror the medieval court world of the poem. And more than one scholar has examined the oppositions with a deconstructive turn. Even the task of interpreting the major characters unravels a plethora of possibilities. The fairy king, for example, abducts Heurodis, but he is not overtly identified as evil in the poem; instead, he operates outside and beyond the human framework of understanding. He can be read as a demonic figure, particularly if we invoke a medieval Christian framework. But invoking other frameworks will produce other readings: he can serve as an image of fate, a representative of death, an adversary who comes to life to punish sin, a pre-Christian divinity or spirit, a rupture in meaning, the representative of artifice, irrationality, "king of textuality," and more.[7]

A similar complexity or instability of meaning can be found in Pierre Bersuire's Reductorium Morale (c. 1325-1337), a text roughly contemporaneous with Sir Orfeo. Written in Latin, this moralized encyclopedia offers opposing interpretations of the Orpheus figure. First, Bersuire imagines Orpheus as a Christ-figure:
Let us speak allegorically and say that Orpheus, the child of the sun, is Christ the son of God the Father, who from the beginning led Eurydice, that is, the human soul to himself. And from the beginning Christ joined her to himself through his special prerogative. But the devil, a serpent, drew near the new bride, that is, created de novo, while she collected flowers that is, while she seized the forbidden apple, and bit her by temptation and killed her by sin, and finally she went to the world below. Seeing this, Christ-Orpheus wished himself to descend to the lower world and thus he retook his wife, that is, human nature, ripping her from the hands of the ruler of Hell himself; and he led her with him to the upper world, saying this verse from Canticles 2:10, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.[8]
Then, immediately following this allegorization, he imagines that Orpheus represents sinful humanity:
Or let us say that Orpheus is a sinner who, by the bite of the serpent, that is, by the temptation of the Devil, lost his wife, that is, his soul, when she was indiscreetly collecting flowers, that is, applying her mind to the flux of temporalia. But he recovered her spiritually when he descended to the lower world through thought and through the power of his sweet measured words. Fear alone of infernal punishment made him penitent for his sins and thus he regained his wife through grace . . . . But many are there who look backward through love of temporalia just as a dog returns to his vomit, and they love their wife too much, that is, the recovered soul, and so they favor their concupiscence and return the eyes of their mind to it and so they put her by and Hell receives her again. So says John 12:25, "He that loveth his life shall lose it." [9]
Similar instability in meaning can be found in the Ovide Moralisé, also dating from around the same time as Sir Orfeo. But the instability of meaning found in the commentaries on the myth stem from juxtaposing different avenues of interpretation; within Sir Orfeo, the ambiguities arise, not in a chronological listing of different interpretations but by the simultaneous interweaving and resonance of different innuendoes and possibilities.

If anything in the poem forms a stable center, it is the harp. More than any character, the harp is the central image of the poem, since, from beginning to end, its presence is known. The harp was a powerful metaphor in classical and medieval culture. As a Pythagorean model of perfect harmony and proportion, its strings came to represent the music of the spheres: a metaphor for the harmonious cosmos. It was also associated with the spiritual life, the power of grace, heavenly music, and the harmony of the spirit. Michael Masi notes, "Compared to the music of the reed and other wind instruments, [the harp] was the instrument of grace and goodness, not of sensuality and ribaldry. It was a sacred instrument and the quality of its music was not to be confused with the secular entertainment of other music." [10] Certainly for a medieval Christian audience, the image could easily resonate with the numerous citheras of Old Testament kings and prophets, especially with the lyre of the psalm-writer, King David. In Sir Orfeo, the harp charms the animals, brings harmony where there was hostility, and is the one item which Orfeo carries over from his kingly world into his beggar world. It is also the one object which is shared by both character and poet; it bridges the fictional world of the lay and the actual world of the lay minstrel. Furthermore, the harp succeeds where armies of men fail; it charms the fairy king and is essential for Heurodis' recovery and for Orfeo's restoration. The orphic song emphasizes the power of art, eloquence, poetry, music, and rhetoric. Like Amphion, the legendary builder of Thebes, who charmed the stones of the city into place with his harp, Orfeo and his harp can represent functions of culture, language, and civilization. In an eleventh-century poem by Thierry of Saint-Trond, Orpheus, "trusting with all the power of his spirit in the divinity of his art, bravely took what he desired from [the Otherworld of] Styx. Thus art, aided by firm purpose, vanquished nature." [11] Nicolas Trivet, who wrote a commentary on Boethius (c. 1305) contemporaneous with Sir Orfeo, also emphasizes this aspect of the narrative. Trivet writes: "By Orpheus, we should understand the part of the intellect which is instructed in wisdom and eloquence . . . . Orpheus, then, by his sweet lyre, that is of his eloquence, brought the wicked, brutal, and wild animals/men of the wood to the law of reason." [12]

Where the brilliant Otherworld is characterized by visual artifice and stasis, Orfeo's song breaks into its suspended motion and charms Heurodis back to life. As Roy M. Liuzza comments, "Heurodis must be resurrected by the voice of the singer just as the written word, in medieval linguistic thought, must be revived by the voice of the reader/performer." [13] But even the harp, the powerful central image of the lay doesn't have the last word or final sound. Any semiotic system we bring to this poem will fail to capture all the meanings of the text. As Jeff Rider comments, "What makes Sir Orfeo so remarkable is the degree of critical response it has generated, the high praise it has earned, and the almost utter lack of accord among critics as to its interpretation. The poem seems to be remythified with each reading; each reading makes us feel that the previous one, even yesterday's, was inadequate." [14]

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National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1, fols. 299a (stub)-303ra; also known as the Auchinleck MS (A). [A folio volume of 332 vellum leaves, most of its illuminations have been excised, and the manuscript has been damaged by the loss of many leaves which have been cut away completely.]<
British Library MS Harley 3810, fols. 1a-10a (H).

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61, fols. 151a-156a (B).

Facsimile Edition

The Auchinleck Manuscript. National Library of Scotland. Advocates MS. 19.2.1. With introduction by Derek Pearsall and I. C. Cunningham. London: Scolar Press, in association with The National Library of Scotland, 1979.


Bliss, A. J., ed. Sir Orfeo. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966. [Prints all three MSS. Reconstructs a thirty-eight line prologue for A out of the prologue to Lay le Freine and H and B.]

Wallace, Sylvia Crowell, ed. "Sir Orfeo: An Edition." Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1963.

Zielke, Oscar, ed. Sir Orfeo: Ein englisches Feenmärchen aus dem Mittelalter. Breslau: Koebner, 1880. [Uses A with twenty-four line prologue derived from H and prologue to Lay le Freine (A fol. 261a).]


Burrow, John A., ed. English Verse 1300-1500. Longman Annotated Anthologies of English Verse, Vol. I. London: Longman, 1977. Pp. 4-27. [Text based on A with Bliss's thirty-eight line prologue.]

Cook, A. S. A Literary Middle English Reader. Boston: Ginn, 1915; rpt. Boston: Ginn, 1943, pp. 88-107. [Follows A, adding a ten line prologue.]

Dunn, Charles W., and Edward T. Byrnes, eds. Middle English Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Pp. 216-30. [Twenty-four line prologue, from Zielke.]

Ford, Boris, ed. The Age of Chaucer The Pelican Guide to English Literature I. Baltimore: Penguin, 1955. Pp. 271-88.

French, Walter Hoyt, and Charles Brockway Hale, eds. The Middle English Metrical Romances. 2 vols. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964. Vol. I. Pp. 321-41. [Uses A as base text, with twenty-four line prologue from Zielke.]

Garbáty, Thomas J., ed. Medieval English Literature. Lexington, Mass: Heath, 1984. Pp. 349-64. [A text with twenty-four line prologue, as in French and Hale.]

Gibbs, A. C., ed. Middle English Romances, York Medieval Texts. London: Edward Arnold; Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966. Pp. 84-103. [A text with twenty-four line prologue.]

Haskell, Ann S., ed. A Middle English Anthology. Garden City: Anchor, 1969. Pp. 247-62. [A text with no prologue.]

Rumble, Thomas, ed. The Breton Lays in Middle English. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965. Pp. 207-26. [Uses Ashmole 61 as base text.]

Sands, Donald B., ed. Middle English Verse Romances. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. Pp. 185-200. [A text with no prologue.]

Schmidt, A. V. C., and Nicolas Jacobs, eds. Medieval English Romances. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1980, Vol. I. Pp. 151-71. [A text with twenty-four line prologue.]

Sisam, Celia and Kenneth, eds. The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Pp. 76-98. [A text with twenty-four line prologue.]

Sisam, Kenneth, ed. Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921; rpt. with corrections, 1975. Pp. 13-31.

Related Studies

Brouland, Marie-Thérèse. Sir Orfeo: le substrat celtique du lai breton anglais. Paris: Didier Erudition, 1990. [Identifies Celtic folktales and mythic symbols which reside in Orfeo and which have parallels in other texts. A catalogue of episodes, objects, and characters Sir Orfeo shares with other texts stemming from Celtic materials.]

Doob, Penelope B. R., Nebuchadnezzar's Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974. Pp. 158-207. [Argues that "the poem can be fully understood only when one grasps the traditions that seem to have influenced its conception: the commentaries, the Christian uses of the Orpheus legend, and especially the convention of the Holy Wild Man" (p. 165).]

Friedman, John B. Orpheus in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970. [Examines the Orphic narrative as it appears in numerous literary, philosophical, theological, and historical texts written in the Middle Ages and their various uses and interpretations of the myth. See also his article, "Eurydice, Heurodis, and the Noon-Day Demon." Speculum 41 (1966), 22-29.]

Grimaldi, Patrizia. "Sir Orfeo as Celtic Folk-Hero, Christian Pilgrim, and Medieval King." In Allegory, Myth, and Symbol, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield, Harvard English Studies 9. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. Pp. 147-61. [Grounding her argument on Northrop Frye's definition of allegory, Grimaldi demonstrates the multiple levels of allegory (literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical) in Sir Orfeo which point to Celtic folklore, myth, Christianity and socio-political ethics.]

Gros Louis, Kenneth R. R. "The Significance of Sir Orfeo's Self-Exile." Review of English Studies n.s. 18 (1967), 245-52. [Although we expect Orpheus to undertake a long search for Eurydice, since that is the case in numerous versions of the narrative, in Sir Orfeo this does not occur. Orfeo assumes he has lost his wife and retreats into exile. He does not plan to search for her and is not on any heroic quest; instead, she is mysteriously brought to him. Focusing on the ten years Orfeo lives in the wilderness, Gros Louis reads the lay as a Christianized narrative of penance and purification, the restoration of Heurodis a gift of grace.]

Hynes-Berry, Mary. "Cohesion in King Horn and Sir Orfeo." Speculum 50 (1975), 652-70. [Argues against scholars like Howard Nimchinsky, "Orfeo, Guillaume, and Horn." Romance Philology 22 (1968), 1-14, who see lines of influence between Sir Orfeo and the romance of King Horn. The similarities are "critically misleading," and "neither . . . can be fairly evaluated using the other as a model" (652). Horn is a romance of the action hero and has "little interest in psychology" (670); Orfeo, on the other hand, is concerned with emotion and its theme is primarily psychological. These differences resonate in both the structures and aesthetics of both texts.]

Lerer, Seth. "Artifice and Artistry in Sir Orfeo." Speculum 60 (1985), 92-109. ["Through a close analysis of the vocabulary and possible source material of the Auchinleck version of the poem, this study . . . show[s] how Sir Orfeo articulates a vision of art's power to reshape experience" (p. 94). The lay affirms the power of visual arts, horticulture, language, and music to shape order and meaning out of chaos and affirms the restorative and redemptive power of narrative in the face of loss.]

Liuzza, Roy Michael. "Sir Orfeo: Sources, Traditions, and the Poetics of Performance." Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 21 (1991), 269-84.
[Considers the lay within the oral tradition and argues that "the conscious manipulation of the boundaries between orality and textuality" (p. 272) creates some of its powerful effects.]

Masi, Michael. "The Christian Music of Sir Orfeo." Classical Folia 28 (1974), 3-20.
[Reads the lay as Christian narrative by examining connections between Orpheus and Christ and by exploring the Christian music symbolism found in medieval moral and cosmological concepts of the harmony of the universe. Makes specific connections between the music symbolism in Sir Orfeo and Boethius' De Musica.]

O'Brien, Timothy D. "The Shadow and Anima in Sir Orfeo." Mediaevalia 10 (1984), 235-54. [Offers a psychological interpretation of the lay based on Jung's concept of individuation.]

Riddy, Felicity. "The Uses of the Past in Sir Orfeo." Yearbook of English Studies 6 (1976), 5-15. [Contrary to many studies which ascribe emotional and psychological depth to Orfeo, Riddy maintains that the lay emphasizes "outward" and "observable" experiences and behaviors instead. That although the listener may learn from Orfeo, his "is not the kind of character who can be said to 'learn' anything, since he lacks . . . breadth of consciousness" (p. 11). The narrative (rather than the characters) articulates themes of nostalgia and grief and presents a Christian reading which redeems loss and the past.]

Rider, Jeff. "Receiving Orpheus in the Middle Ages: Allegorization, Remythification and Sir Orfeo." Papers on Language & Literature 24 (1988), 343-66. [Examines "allegorization" and "remythification" as responses to myth evidenced in medieval readings of the Orpheus myth, particularly within the lay of Sir Orfeo and as evidenced in modern interpretations of the lay. Focusing on the interplay of "King" and "Faerie," Rider writes: "The fairy king's abduction of Heurodis might thus be seen as the representation of the allegorization, the capture and reduction, of myth, which is eventually liberated and brought back to full life through the artist's efforts" (p. 366).]

Severs, J. Burke. "The Antecedents of Sir Orfeo." In Studies in Medieval Literature in Honor of Professor Albert Croll Baugh. Ed. MacEdward Leach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961. Pp. 187-207.