Simple Forms is a study of popular or folk literature in the medieval period. Focusing both on the vast body of oral literature that lies behind the written texts which have survived from the medieval period and on the popular literature provided by literate authors for audiences of hearers or readers with varying degrees of literacy, Douglas Gray leads new readers to a productively complicated understanding of the relationship between medieval popular culture and the culture of the learned. He argues that medieval society was stratified, in what seems to us a rigid way, but that culturally it was more flexible. Literary topics, themes, and forms moved; there was much borrowing, and a constant interaction. Popular tales, motifs, and ideas passed into learned or courtly works; learned forms and attitudes made their way in into popular culture. All in all this seems to have been a fruitful symbiosis. The book's twelve chapters are principally organised genre, covering epics, ballads, popular romances, folktales, the German sage, legends, animal tales and fables, proverbs, riddles, satires, songs, and drama.
A seminal text in literary theory available in English for the first time Legend, saga, myth, riddle, saying, case, memorabile, fairy tale, joke: André Jolles understands each of these nine “simple forms” as the reflection in language of a distinct mode of human engagement with the world and thus as a basic structuring principle of literary narrative. Published in German in 1929 and long recognized as a classic of genre theory, Simple Forms is the first English translation of a significant precursor to structuralist and narratological approaches to literature. Like Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, with which it is often compared, Jolles’s work is not only foundational for the later development of genre theory but is of continuing relevance today. A major influence on literary genre studies since its publication, Simple Forms is finally available in English.