British Ephemeral Literature Criticism: Broadside Ballads - Essay

M. J. C. Hodgart (essay date 1962)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “The Ballads and Literature,” in The Ballads, W. W. Norton and Company, 1962, pp. 140-50.

[In the following excerpt, Hodgart examines how broadside ballads went from being considered “low art” in the seventeenth century to being a form that was embraced by British literary masters such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge by the end of the eighteenth century.]

The ballads have taken a great deal from learned literature, and … many of them show the hand of skilled poets. Throughout Europe there has been a continual movement of motifs and forms from the poetry of the élite into folk tradition. But there has also been a...

(The entire section is 3649 words.)

Diane Dugaw (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Prologue” and “The fashion for Female Warrior ballads: new ‘hits’ and old favorites, 1600-1650,” in Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 1-14; 43-64.

[In the following excerpts, Dugaw examines the popular appeal of Mary Ambree, an early seventeenth-century ballad about a transvestite warrior woman, a story that appeared in various manifestations in chapbooks for over two hundred years.]

The Anglo-American Female Warrior is a high-mettled heroine of popular ballads who masquerades as a man and ventures off to war for love and for glory. Songs celebrating such women flourished as lower-class...

(The entire section is 9534 words.)

Natascha Würzbach (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: “Literary and social conditions for the rise, distribution and textual structure of the street ballad,” in The Rise of the English Street Ballad, 1550-1650, translated by Gayna Walls, Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 1-27.

[In the following excerpt, Würzbach analyzes the relationship between English ballads, theater, and commerce between 1550 and 1650.]


The text of the street ballad, available to us in broadsides and in edited collections, some of which are annotated, was usually sung and sometimes read to the audience of the time as part of the selling process. Performance and sale were closely...

(The entire section is 8615 words.)

Tessa Watt (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Introduction to Cheap Print and Popular Piety, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 1-8.

[In the following excerpt, Watt rejects critical studies that portray the broadside ballad as appealing only to lower-class sensibilities, and argues that the ballads also made their way into “respected” culture as they served important social and cultural needs.]

My decision to begin research in early modern English history was inspired by studies published over the past fifteen years which are loosely described as works on ‘popular culture’.1 Margaret Spufford's work on the late seventeenth-century chapbook trade, in particular, raised a challenging...

(The entire section is 4380 words.)