Ballads are a fascinating subject of study not least because of their endless variety
It is quite remarkable that ballads taken down or recorded from singers separated by centuries in time and by hundreds of kilometres in distance, should be both different and yet recognizably the same. In The English Traditional Ballad, David Atkinson examines the ways in which the body of ballads known in England make reference both to ballads from elsewhere and to other English folk songs. The book outlines current theoretical directions in ballad scholarship: structuralism, traditional referentiality, genre and context, print and oral transmission, and the theory of tradition and revival. These are combined to offer readers a method of approaching the central issue in ballad studies - the creation of meaning(s) out of ballad texts. Atkinson focuses on some of the most interesting problems in ballad studies: the 'wit-combat' in versions of The Unquiet Grave; variable perspectives in comic ballads about marriage; incest as a ballad theme; problems of feminine motivation in ballads like The Outlandish Knight and The Broomfield Hill; murder ballads and murder in other instances of early popular literature. Through discussion of these issues and themes in ballad texts, the book outlines a way of tracing tradition(s) in English balladry, while recognizing that ballad tradition is far from being simply chronological and linear.