- The Ballad
The word Ballad is derived from the word “Ballare” which means to dance. Originally a ballad was a song with a strong narrative substance sung to the accompaniment of dancing. “A ballad differs from a lyric in being descriptive rather than impressionistic, the telling of a tale,not the expression of a mood ; while technically it is simpler;more primitive,less wrought upon as an art form,” says compton-Rickett. The minstrel or the bard would sing the main parts, and the dancers would sing the refrain or certain lines which were frequently repeated. Often it was in the form of a dialogue. Thus the popular ballad had a strong dramatic element : the audience were not merely passive listeners, they danced and sang along with the bard. There was a strong sense of participation and ,consequently, the entertainment was much greater. As the ballad generally narrated some local event, they were easily understood by the audience even when they were most allusive. Loves, battles or heroic, exploits, some supernatural incident, or some local events, were the cheif themes of the ballads.
The Oral Tradition
The ballad was originally oral literature. It was folklore. Ballads were passed on orally from generation to generation and, in the process, they were much ” altered, modified or suppressed, and new circumstances suggested opportune additions”. Oral tradition changed the form of the ballad. “Like money in circulation it lost, little by little, its imprint; its salient curves were blunted; and long use gave it a Polish it did not have originally,” says legouis. The exact facts to which a ballad owned its origin grew misty with the passing of time, the ballad became romantic and acquired the charm of the remote. We hardly ever know them as they were originally.
Great Age of Ballads
The ballads had been very popular since the earliest times but the impulse to make them was the strongest in the 15th century, and it was also to this century to which the earliest written specimens belong. Not only were numerous ballads of a very high quality made and sung, but two of the very finest English ballads were also reduced to writing for the first time in this period.