Fairy Tales

Classic Tales · Into the Woods · Selchies · Sir Orfeo
A Lady in a Forest Sir Orfeo is a magical confection, a medieval resetting of the classic tale of Orpheus and Euridyce as the quest of King Orfeo to reclaim his wife Lady Heurodis from the realm of the King of Faery. The story is preserved in three Middle English manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, based on a lost Breton lyric lay, and in the Shetlandic folk-ballad King Orfeo.

The Twisting of the Tale

The Englishing of Romance: Familiarising Sir Orfeo, an essay by Robert Sanderson, traces the historical path of the Orpheus myth from antiquity to the Middle Ages and explores Breton lyric lays and the interlacing of the classical story with the Celtic theme of the fairy-realm under the hill.

The Text

Sir Orfeo, an edition in Middle English by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury at TEAMS (originally Published in The Middle English Breton Lays Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995).
Sir Orfeo in the Auchinleck Manuscript at the National Library of Scotland offers online access to scans of the manuscript. [Large images and slow to load, but worth the wait.]
Sir Orfeo, a verse translation by Jessie L. Weston, from The Chief Middle English Poets (1914).
Sir Orfeo retold by Linda Marie Zaerr in modern English based on the Auchinleck MS with harp references added from MS Harley 3810/1 and MS Ashmole 61. [PDF]
Sir Orfeo, a digital edition by Ulrich Harsch at the Bibliotheca Augustana in Augsburg.
J.R.R. Tolkien's edition of Sir Orfeo in Middle English was published in 1944; his translation was published in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo (1975).

The Ballad

DER lived a king inta da aste,
    Scowan ürla grün
Der lived a lady in da wast.
    Whar giorten han grün oarlac.
King Orfeo, Child Ballad 19a, collected in the Shetland Islands. The ballad's archaic language is a combination of verses in the Shetlandic dialect or Shaelta and a refrain in Norn, the Norse dialect spoken in Shetland and its neighbouring islands into the eighteenth century.
King Orfeo, A Shetland Ballad, from the Oxford Book of Ballads, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1910.
The Music of Faery by Terri Windling uses a prose retelling of King Orfeo as the stepping-off point for a journey through the world of the English, Celtic, and Northern ballad tradition; at the Endicott Studio. New !

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26 December 2005