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Title: The gallows and the stake : a consideration of fact and fiction in the Scottish ballads
Author(s): McAlpine, Kay
Issue Date: 1995
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: As the title of this study suggests, the following pages are concerned with ballads which refer to death by hanging or burning. This subject brings an aesthetic world into the realms of the real and presents an artistic conceptualisation of both the 'real' - historic facts - and the 'abstract' - human emotions. In terms of the 'real', ballads which refer to actual events can be compared to historic documentation in order to ascertain the extent of interaction between the ballad world and historic fact. In terms of the 'abstract', execution and death are emotive subjects, so how emotional potential is controlled within the tradition is important, for even those reports which claim to be impersonal accounts of executions can be disturbing, even though centuries may separate a reader from the event. Formalising the language is one method of control and this study will discuss formulas and structures related to execution scenes. The formulas also provide points of connection between ballads which otherwise would seem to be unrelated, such as Mary Hamilton and Hobie Noble. The ballads discussed come from different repertoires, regions and centuries. Thus, those scenes which have been retained are more than a personal or regional variant of that scene; it has become a cultural interpretation and it may prove rewarding to consider what precedents exist for such interpretations and whether these are historic, national - specifically Scottish - or part of a wider aesthetic interpretation of death and justice. The printed ballad trade which existed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Scotland has also been referred to, in order to provide alternative interpretations of the spectacle of execution and the popular presentation of the condemned. It may be that one tradition relies more closely on reality than the other, or it may be that two conflicting fictions exist.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Department of English Studies

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