From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment

Synopsis

Despite lip service to the proposition that the Pearl manuscript is the product of a single author, critics usually treat the four poems as isolated entities. The two authors of this work - who individually and together have produced a formidable body of research, criticism, and bibliographic study of this anonymous fourteenth-century poet - set forth a different thesis. They assume not only that the works share a common author but that they are connected and intersect in fundamental ways. They begin with the observation that the four Cotton Nero poems, taken together, extend from Creation to the Apocalypse and then transcendence to the heavenly Jerusalem. Comprising the entire scope of "History", the poems share a Creator whose active intervention in human affairs bespeaks a providential history that is the product of divine Will. Beginning with this premise, the authors discuss a series of interrelated themes (language, covenants, miracles, the iconography of the hand, and the role of the intrusive narrator) that successively arise from their initial observation. Every discussion treats all four poems, using each individual work to gloss the others. While this study builds on centuries of previous scholarship, much of what Blanch and Wassermann explore has never been discussed elsewhere. Some of the material - in particular their reading of the Green Knight's offer of weapons to Arthur's court, and the thematic significance of moral "handiwork" in the Gawain poems - not only breaks new ground but challenges accepted interpretations.