Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Poetry Does Theology: Chaucer, Grosseteste, and the Pearl-Poet

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Poetry Does Theology: Chaucer, Grosseteste, and the Pearl-Poet

Article excerpt

Jim Rhodes, Poetry Does Theolog: Chaucer, Grossefeste, and the Pearl-Poet (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001). xi + 324 pp. ISBN o-268-03870-8. L20.95.

This accessible study explores the ways in which fourteenth-century English poetry engages contemporary theological concerns. The author challenges a perceived drift in current historicist methodologies by urging that the poetry of this period be viewed as distinct and privileged discourse. From this premiss, Jim Rhodes seeks to explore the dynamic by which narrative poetry transforms theological matter into fictive matter, susceptible of dialogic engagement and challenge. The author proposes that in a restricted corpus of late Middle English poetry, particularly that of Chaucer and the Pearl-poet, this dynamic is salient as authors, inspired by the incarnational theology of the moderni, inscribe within didactic narrative counter-claims for human virtue and spiritual potential.

After a survey of the incarnational theology of Grosseteste's Castle of Love (to which the author would grant greater influence than has been previously acknowledged), a group of fourteenth-century English poems arc studied in detail. Cleanness, Patience, Pearl, St Erkenwald, and several Canterbury Tales receive original and stylish readings in the light of Rhodes's thesis. The chapters, well grounded in preceding scholarship, are on occasion prompt to challenge prior consensus. Thus claims for narratorial shifts 'of allegiance' (p. 120) in Patience and Cleanness posit more fluid and ambiguous narrators than are generally granted in these poems. Likewise the application of 'Bakhtinian dialogic' rather than 'Boethian dialogue' (p. …

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