Sir Patrick Spence Lesson Plan

  •  Ballads:
    • Word derives from French for “dance.”
      • Originally written to accompany dance.
    • Narrative poems.
      • Anonymous story-songs transmitted orally.
      • Incorporate Scandinavian and Germanic traditions of storytelling.
    • Ballad stanzas
      • Four lines of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
      • ABCB rhyme scheme.
    • Common dialect, heavily influenced by region.
  • Child Ballads:
    • Francis J. Child
      • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
        • 1882-1898
      • 305 “authentic” folk ballads.
        • Creation of illiterate or semi-illiterate people
        • Preserved orally.
        • Only a dozen have been added since.
  • Appalachian (New World) ballads
    • Written by immigrants from England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, after arrival in America.
      • Influenced by Old World ballads
        • May vary in setting and reflect local regional dialect.
      • Reflect news of the day
      • Published as broadsides
      • Many scholars worked to record these ballads from the late 1800s to mid 1900s.
        • Songcatcher movie and accompanying soundtrack released ~ 2000
  • Murder Ballads
    • Describe the events of a murder
      • Point of view of murderer
        • Sympathetic
        • Plea for listener not to commit the same sins.
      • Point of view of victim
        • Tragic
      • Distanced
        • Neutral
      • Supernatural
        • New World murder ballads tend to omit supernatural element.
      • Motivation, execution, aftermath.
        • Murderer suffers justice.
      • Nick Cave album Murder Ballads – most critically acclaimed work consisting of new and traditional murder ballads, released 1996.
  • Sir Patrick Spence
    • Traditional ballad
      • One of Childs’ 305 authentic ballads
    • Tells the story of a man ordered to sail for the King.
      • A storm is coming.
      • The ship sinks.
      • It has been suggested that the ballad may have been based on the 1589 voyage of Sir Patrick Vans to bring King James the VI’s bride home from Norway.
    • Other versions are much longer and give more detail of the King’s order, the voyage, and the wreck.
  • Questions:
    • What’s the significance of the first line?
      • Speaks to conflict between those in power and those who are powerless. Orders come from “on high” and the lower classes must follow.
    • What’s the significance of the “blood-red” wine?
      • Foreshadowing disaster.
    • What language in second stanza suggests this is an Appalachian version of the ballad?
      • “Up and spak.”
    • In other versions, Spence isaCaptian, and/or the Knight is a boy. What significance do these differences have for the meaning of the poem?
      • If Spence is an officer, the power dynamic is not as pronounced.
      • The same if the Knight is a boy. (Why would a boy be at the King’s right knee?)
    • Why does Spence laugh in the fourth stanza?
      • He’s proud to be recognized by the King as the best.
    • What is implied by Spence’s statement, “Who is this has done this deed/this ill deed done to me?”
      • His appointment is politically motivated or the result of a grudge.
    • Whatisthe implication of the eighth stanza? Who is being spoken of?
      • “Our Scots nobles” who are “loath to wet their cork shoes” are not the “merry men” afraid to sail with Spence for fear of the storm, but rather the upper classes who didn’t want to risk being responsible or taking the blame for failure. (Weren’t willing to do the dirty work.)
    • What’s the significance of the last line, that the “Scots lords” are “at his feet?”
      • Not only are the lord drowned along with Spence, but ultimately, they are beneath him, in terms of moral character.
    • Could Sir Patrick Spence be considered a murder ballad?
      • This version, at least.
      • There’s the suggestion that the appointment was politically motivated.
      • The murderer(s) (lords, as representatives of King) suffer justice by drowning along with Spence.

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