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Middle English Poetry (PCMEP)

PCMEP Text Information

Kyng Alisaunder

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About the text:
Text name: Kyng Alisaunder
Alternative names: King Alexander; Diverse is this middle earth; The Book of Alexander the Great; The Lyfe of Alisaunder
Content: The romance Kyng Alisaunder is a fictionalized account of the life of Alexander the Great. The text is divided into two parts, the first dealing with Alexander’s birth, youth, ascend to power and conquest of Darius' Empire of Persia, the second narrating Alexander’s conquest of India, and eventual death by poison.
Detailed summaries of the poem's plot can be found at the Database of Middle English Romances or in Smithers (1952: xv-xx).
Kyng Alisaunder is generally regarded as one of the literarily most valuable Middle English texts. "There is no doubt, that few English romances can boast of a greater share of good poetry" (Weber 1810: xxxiii). "The poem is unusually good for the period" (Wells 1916: 101). "K[yng]A[lisaunder] is among the best of the M[iddle]E[nglish] metrical romances" (Smithers 1957: 40).
Genre/subjects: romance, tale, King Alexander, fictionalized biography, narrative, antiquity, history, travelogue, gest, heroic poetry
Dialect of original composition: East Midlands, London, Kentish
The poem essentially shows the linguistic features associated with London, c. 1250-1350, established by Heuser (1914) (e.g. long a as the reflex of West-Saxon long æ as in arst 'first', l. 312, 6480, West-Saxon ærst) (Smithers 1957: 42). In addition, some other minor details imply a connection with London (e.g., the reference to Chepe 'Cheapside, a street in the city of London', in l. 2656) (ibid: 43). Thus, the "evidence as a whole [...] unmistakably points to London as the area of origin of K[yng]A[lisaunder]" (ibid: 43). This dialect attribution has become the consensus view among scholars (e.g., "Place of Composition: London" (Database of Middle English Romances), "London" (Buccini 1992: 21)).
However, the text also includes some Kentish forms (e.g., grede 'covering of the bosom', l. 4187, 4196, otherwise only attested in the Ayenbite) (Smithers 1957: 42, 44). Variation in the vowels of rhyming words also suggests the presence of some dialect mixing (e.g. olde:bolde, ll. 3117-8 besides elde:belde, ll. 5514-5) (ibid.: 41). This may mean that some Kentish features were current in the language of London due to linguistic contact (ibid.: 43) or that the author was a Kentishman living in London (ibid.; Morsbach 1896: 10-11; Wells 1916: 100).
For a comprehensive overview of the scholarship on the provenance of Kyng Alisaunder, see Smithers (1957: 40-47, list of features 47-52, section about rhymes on oi 52-55).
Date of original composition: 1290-1330
A fragment of the text is contained in the Auchinleck manuscript, which is dated to around 1330. This sets the terminus ante quem for the composition of the text. The original may have been composed up to several decades before that date.
The poem is "perhaps originally [...] of the latter part of the thirteenth century" (Wells 1916: 100), "may have been written shortly before 1300" (Malone & Baugh 1967: 175, fn. 6), is "an early 14th-cent. romance" (Drabble 2000: 557), from "c. 1300" (Cannon 2008: 21), from the "[e]arly fourteenth century" (Database of Middle English Romances). The online version of the Middle English Dictionary lists the date of composition as ?a1300.
Suggested date: 1300
PCMEP period: 2b (1300-1350)
Versification: couplets, two-line, aa
Index of ME Verse: 683 (IMEV), 683 (NIMEV)
Digital Index of ME Verse: 1131
Wells: 1.65
MEC HyperBibliography: KAlex.

About the edition and manuscript base:
Edition: Weber, Henry. 1810. Metrical Romances of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries: Published from Ancient Manuscripts with an Introduction, Notes, and a Glossary. Volume 1. Edinburgh: George Ramsay and Company. 3-327.
Manuscript used for edition: Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 622 (SC 1414), ff. 27va-64rb (abbreviated [B])
London, Lincoln’s Inn Library, Hale 150, ff. 28r-90r (abbreviated [L])

"The Bodleian Ms. [B] copy of K[yng]A[lisaunder] is a relatively very good one and the Lincoln's Inn [L] a very corrupt one" (Smithers 1957: 8). Despite the fact that [B] is the preferred manuscript for the text, Weber's edition uses [L] as the base manuscript and supplements it with passages from [B]. He is hopeful that the resulting collated "edition is as perfect as the two existing MSS. could make it" (Weber 1810: xxxviii). He lists the exact substitutes from [B] for lines in [L] in an appendix entitled "Various Readings and Mistakes in the MSS. corrected in the Text" (ibid.: 373-381). In particular, a large lacuna of 1227 lines, ll. 4772-5989, occurs in [L] and has been filled in with the corresponding passage from [B]. Besides the substitutes in the collated edition, the parsed file sometimes replaces additional lines in the text with corresponding lines from [B] where such substitution permits otherwise unviable parses. All of these additional substitutes are indicated in the parsed file as comment CODEs.
Online manuscript description: Manuscript [B], Oxford, Bodleian Library; Laud misc. 622:
Summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, no. 1414

Manuscript [L], London, Lincoln’s Inn 150:
A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, no. V. (Gifts of Various Benefactors) XXIX (CL)
Manuscript dialect: Manuscript [B], Oxford, Bodleian Library; Laud misc. 622:
(South) East Midlands
The scribes of [B] do not seem to have found it difficult to adapt the language of the East Midlands reference text to the copy they were producing. The [B] witness of Kyng Alisaunder thus originates in the East Midlands, perhaps Essex, London, or a region in proximity to Kentish.
"[T]he scribal modifications of the author’s form of M[iddle]E[nglish] are not so well marked or distinctive as to be readily identifiable with a specific (and divergent) dialectal type. [...] [T]he scribes [...] cannot have belonged to an area with a radically different dialectal character [than that of the original]." (Smithers 1957: 56).
The manuscript language has been localized to Essex (McIntosh et al. 1986: 150).

Manuscript [L], London, Lincoln’s Inn 150:
West Midlands
The scribes of [L] superimpose a distinctly Western character on the language of the East Midlands original. For example, [L] often shows retention of the Old English spelling eo corresponding to East Midlands e. This results in rhymes such as steode:dede, ll. 2553-4 (cf. stede:dede in [B]). Further, [L] often shows o before a nasal where other dialects would usually have a. The following illustrates: Mony faucon, mony spere, // Mony goshauk, mony banere, ll. 3216-7 (cf. Many faukun, many spere, // Many goshauk, many laynere in [B]).
"[T]his is a copy with a predominant and consistent Western colouring" (Smithers 1957: 55).
The manuscript language has been localized to Shropshire (McIntosh et al. 1986: 118).
Manuscript date: Manuscript [B], Oxford, Bodleian Library; Laud misc. 622:
s. xiv-ex
The manuscript was produced "c. 1400" (Wells 1916: 100).
The online version of the MED dates the manuscript c1400.

Manuscript [L], London, Lincoln’s Inn 150:
s. xiv-ex, s.xv-in
The manuscript was produced at the "end of the 14th or beginning 15th century " (Wells 1916: 100), or in the "[s]econd half [of the] 14th cent" (Ker 1969: 135).
The online version of the MED dates the manuscript a1425.

About the file:
File name: M2b.Alisaunder
ID: Alisaunder,v.w.x.y.z: v=page, w=line, x=part {Part 1 - Part 2}, y=Section {Prologue, Chapter 1-10}, z=token
The Latin title and explicit have "Title" and "Explicit" instead of a part and section indication.
Word count: 45,881
Token count: 4,705
Line count: 8,034

General notes: In addition to the two main manuscript witnesses of the text, Oxford, Bodleian Library; Laud misc. 622 [B] and London, Lincoln’s Inn 150 [L], a fragment of about 400 lines has been preserved in the Auchinleck manuscript, Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates' 19.2.1 [Auchinleck manuscript], ff. 278r-279r (abbreviated [A]). An additional fragment of this manuscript was discovered in 1949 (Smithers 1969). This witness of the text played no substantial role in the collation of the edition used for the parsed file.
The subject matter of Alexander the Great occupied a prominent place in medieval textual culture. The Middle English Kyng Alisaunder is therefore far from an original invention, but rather a free translation of pre-existing sources. The most important source is the Anglo-Norman Roman de Toute Cheualerie by Thomas of Kent (before 1200). "K[yng]A[lisaunder] is in fact a fairly free adaptation of the A[nglo]N[orman] work" (Smithers 1957: 15). A secondary source is the Latin Alexandreis by Walter of Châtillon (written c. 1200). This text is invoked in a few places of the Middle English text (e.g. Therefore Y have, hit to colour, // Borowed of the Latyn autour, ll. 2001-2). For a summary of agreement and divergences between Kyng Alisaunder and Roman de Toute Cheualerie, see Smithers 1957: 16-28. For an overview over texts relating to Alexander the Great in medieval Europe, see Weber (1810: xx-xxxii), and Wells (1916: 98-106). For a commentary on the connection between the subject matter of Alexander the Great in medieval texts and the Middle English Kyng Alisaunder in particular, see Smithers 1957: 28 ff. "The Place of Kyng Alisaunder in Medieval Poetry".
There are several short passages written from the perspective of a first person narrator (e.g., Sitteþ stille and ʒiueþ listnynge, // And ʒe shullen here wonder þinge!, ll. 6512-13) (Smithers 1957: 28). Furthermore, one of the witnesses of the text, Ms. Lincoln's Inn 150, contains corruptions that are likely due to auditory errors. These observations point to some degree of oral transmission of the text (Smithers 1952: xi).
Remarks on parses: The line breaks follow the metre as in Weber's (1810: 3-327) edition.
The parses are generally unproblematic. Difficult parses are explained as CODE comments in the parsed file. Problems regarding lexical items and phrases could frequently be resolved by consulting the commentaries and glossaries in Weber (1810, third volume) and Smithers (1957).


Buccini, Anthony Francis. 1992. 'Southern Middle English hise'. In: Lippi-Green, Rosina (ed.) Recent Developments in Germanic Linguistics Amerstdam: John Benjamins. 11-32.
Cannon, Christopher. 2008. Middle English Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Drabble, Margaret. 2000. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (available online)
Heuser, Wilhelm. 1914. AltLondon mit Besonderer Berücksichtigung des Dialekts. Osnabrück: Liesecke.
Ker, Neil R. 1969. Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries. Volume 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Malone, Kemp & Baugh, Albert Croll. 1967. A Literary History of England. Volume 1: The Middle Ages. The Old English Period (to 1100) & The Middle English Period (1100-1500). London: Meredith Publishing Company.
McIntosh, Angus, Samuels, Michael L. & Benskin, Michael. 1986. A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.
Morsbach, Lorenz. 1896. Mittelenglische Grammatik. Halle: Niemeyer.
Smithers, Geoffrey V. 1952. Kyng Alisaunder. Volume 1: Text. EETS o.s. 227. London: Oxford University Press.
Smithers, Geoffrey V. 1957. Kyng Alisaunder. Volume 2: Introduction, Commentary and Glossary. EETS o.s. 237. London: Oxford University Press.
Smithers, Geoffrey V. 1969. 'Another Fragment of the Auchinleck MS.' In: Pearsall, Derek A. & Waldron, Ronald A. (eds.) Medieval Literature and Civilization: Studies in Memory of G. N. Garmonsway. London: The Athlone Press. 192-210.
Weber, Henry. 1810. Metrical Romances of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries: Published from Ancient Manuscripts with an Introduction, Notes, and a Glossary. Volume 1. Edinburgh: George Ramsay and Company. (available online)
Weber, Henry. 1810. Metrical Romances of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries: Published from Ancient Manuscripts with an Introduction, Notes, and a Glossary. Volume 3. Edinburgh: George Ramsay and Company. (available online)
Wells, John E. 1916. Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1400. New Haven, CT: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. (available online)