Further reading

Wall, Wendy. "Isabella Whitney and the Female Legacy."

Donna C. Woodford

CAROL (CAROLE) The carol is a medieval verse form commonly associated with religious, especially Christmas, songs, but also connected to dancing. They are distinguished by having a refrain or burden, which opens the piece and is repeated after every stanza. The verse form varies with respect to line length and meter, but is consistent within a single poem. The stanza lines—commonly four—generally share a single rhyme, run abcb, or fall aaab[b], with the second b belonging to the refrain. In structure, the carol is related to the ballad, the rondeau, and the virelai, also designed for performance and reliant upon refrains.

Roughly 500 medieval English carols survive, most from the 15th century, though the form existed earlier both in England and France. In Middle English contexts, the term carol is often connected directly to dance. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for instance, the term appears five times, each time connected to dancing. The association with Christmas may be traced to John Audelay, a monk who wrote a number of lyrics explicitly labeled "carals" and devoted to Christmas. This has led to some scholarly debate as to which texts are truly carols. For instance, "The Cherry Tree Carol" is about Christmas and dependent on its refrain, but its legendary theme connects it with the ballad tradition as well. Similarly, "The Agincourt Carol" is not about Christmas—rather, it celebrates Henry V's victory over the French in 1415—but follows the other parameters of the genre. The form decreased in popularity after the 15th century, though another carol, "The Holly and the Ivy," has often been attributed to King Henry VIII.

See also "Bring Us in Good Ale," Middle English


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