The Stonecutter’s Prologue and Tale has taken some time to develop but it is nice to finally bring him to life with the power of new technology. The work was inspired by the poetry of the fourteenth century, most notably Chaucer and the Pearl-Poet.
The form of the narrative poem is probably the earliest written record of the English language as it emerged during the Middle Ages. The poets were intelligent and inventive and the scraps and fragments that remain for study continue to fascinate and amuse readers and listeners today. I use the term ‘listeners’ because the reading public of the time was very small indeed and poetry was likely to have been one of the entertainments of the day. My Stonecutter’s Tale has followed this tradition and was written to be spoken aloud to an audience. It has had the odd outing, to friendly audiences, and has revealed a duration of just over fifteen minutes.
The Stonecutter’s Tale is in effect two stories witnessed by a travelling mason; Saint Erkenwald is an anonymously penned alliterative poem and is unusual in that it is a London based text written in the Fourteenth century Cheshire dialect of English similar to that used by the Pearl-Poet; The Peddler of Swaffham is a traditional folk tale told many ways over the centuries and survives today in several different forms. These two tales are conflated through the common thread of the first-hand account of my fictitious travelling Master Mason working on the renovations of Southwark Cathedral and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Chaucer’s own work takes for granted a strong oral tradition of exchanging stories and it is with his Canterbury Tales in mind that I began to write The Stonecutter’s Tale. This text differs from those of Chaucer in several respects, not least because it was written some six-hundred and fifty years later. Six and a half centuries of linguistic, stylistic and social development has to have an effect.