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Considering the importance of Irish folklore in W. B. Yeats's work, it does not come as a surprise that this poet was among the first to recognize how much written literature owes oral tradition. In a literary "causerie" published in the Speaker in 1893, Yeats noted that, The presence of folkloric elements--as well as the fascination by "primitive" modes of expression--can be detected within the most diverse literary trends and periods. Thus, in the first edition of Motif-Index of Folk Literature, Stith Thomson discovered twenty-eight folkloric motifs in fifty-eight stories from Boccaccio's Decameron. In the second edition of Thomson's book, however, there was an increase in both the number of motifs and the number of the stories in which they appear: 128 motifs in eighty-nine stories. (2) Although--with a few exceptions, including the Miller's Tale--the sources of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales have been established as literary, some researchers insist that "folkloric analogies" exist in twenty-two out of twenty-eight stories included in the collection. (3) According to John Ashton, even the plays of Ben Jonson--despite the playwright's strong classicistic inclinations--show that "the native folklore contributed to the creative idea and pattern" in his work as well. As for Shakespeare, Ashton insists that "hardly one of his plays is without some fairly clear reflection of some kind of folklore." (4) This interest in folk tradition became especially apparent during the period of Romanticism as a number of national medieval epics were discovered in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century: Die Niebelungen in Germany (1784), Slovo o polku Igorovu in Russia (1800), Beowulf in England (1815), or La chanson de Roland in France (1837). In an effort to establish their own national identity and, in some cases, independent national states, smaller nations like the Finns, the Irish, and the Serbs also turned to their oral epics: Kalevala (1835, 1849), Irish Popular Songs (1847), and Srpske narodne pjesme (1841-62). As testified by the works of James Joyce and William Faulkner, the fascination by the "primitive" and "traditional" continued well into the twentieth century.

1 January
Slavica Publishers, Inc.
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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