From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment

From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment

From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment

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.

Excerpt

Beginnings and endings have always been of special importance to students of the anonymous fourteenth-century Gawain manuscript. No doubt part of our special fascination with starts and finishes is due to the repetition of material from the beginnings in the respective endings of three of its four poems, a stylistic signature that concretizes the poet's recurrent theme that "the first shall be last." Indeed, Patience finds its genesis in the poet's observation that the first and the last of the eight Beatitudes offer the same reward, the vision of the Creator. Yet if beginning and end are, in the poet's words, "fettled in on forme, þe forme and þe laste" (38) in Patience, this is the same poet who, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, interrupts his own narrative in order to warn his protagonist to "þenk wel" (487) because beginnings often fail to match endings: "þe forme to þe fynisment foldeӡP ful selden" (499). Sometimes our lines meet where they begin; sometimes they do not.

To the reader's possible chagrin, this is a book with a premise to be extended and explored rather than a thesis to be proven. A collection of connected observations rather than an argument where beginning and end meet, the chapters here form a line rather than a circle. The observation that follows concerning the historical continuum that comprises the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript was a starting place from which the rest of this volume grew and upon which the following chapters might be said to be founded. If subsequent discussion extends rather than overtly supports this observation, such a pattern is rooted in the evolution of the study itself, which began with some observations about history and historical process in a Gawain-Poet session at the annual International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Those reflections led to some unanswerable but very interesting questions which provided matter for subsequent papers in succeeding years. For example, the notion of historical process (a divine plan) expanded into the question of what happens when that process or the natural order is "interrupted." The consideration of such interruptions then evolved into a paper on miracles. In turn, a paper on the counterbalancing . . .

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