Medieval topics and rhetoric in the work of the Cywyddwyr
Matonis, Ann T.
While foreign influences on certain areas of Welsh poetry have long been acknowledged, the extent to which the very fabric of Welsh verse reveals acquaintance with rhetorical methods and topics has not yet been examined in detail. It is my thesis that medieval Welsh poets employed rhetorical devices and topics which were widely represented in medieval European verse, and which often had their roots in classical antiquity. The following chapters will examine the rhetorical colors and topoi as they appear in the work of representative fourteenth-century Welsh poets. Chapter II will give some indication of the shifting focus of the panegyric as it incorporated ideas of the medieval chivalric world. Chapter III surveys a number of rhetorical figures, while Chapters IV and V review popular medieval topics. Though it is not a topic that I can take up in full here, this introductory chapter will consider the wider medieval background of Wales in the fourteenth century - a transitional period in Welsh literary history which merits an entire volume. Advances in historical knowledge and comparative literary criticism since the early decades of this century, when such men as Lloyd-Jones, Ifor Williams, Henry Lewis, H.I. Bell, J.E. Lloyd, Saunders Lewis and others made their seminal contributions to the study of Welsh literature, have made the re-evaluation of medieval Welsh literary practice both necessary and timely. To date no comprehensive examination of historical factors and political forces at work in the Welsh poetry of the transitional period between the Gogynfeirdd and the fourteenth-century poets has been undertaken, nor has the potentially instructive analysis of the period in terms of cultural developments and cross-cultural contacts been fully researched. Nonetheless, one does find sporadic calls for such research which would establish more particularly the forces and influences effecting changes in subject matter and mode of presentation. The comprehensive scholarship of J.E. Caerwyn Williams which synopsizes Welsh poetry and prose, both religious and secular, stands as a helpful, broad-seeped introduction to those interested in medieval Welsh literature, and our debt to him must be acknowledged. The question of external influences has been raised by a number of scholars, many of the discussions early and by now dated, others, including several recent pieces, too generalized and offering no detailed analysis of the texts themselves. However, D.J. Bowen, though he makes no claim for foreign models and prefers to stress the conservative elements in Dafydd ap Gwilym's work, has nicely surveyed a number of rhetorical devices in Dafydd's verse. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that borrowings and influences are not necessarily signs of native debility, but can be understood as vital signs of cultural development.