Pearl: Introduction


1 Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny, with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, S. J. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 197; Ricoeur takes the idea of the "category mistake" from Gilbert Ryle, The Concepts of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1949), p. 10.

2 For an important discussion of medieval theories of metaphor, see Peter W. Travis, "Chaucer's Heliotropes and the Poetics of Metaphor," Speculum 72 (1997), 399-427.

3 For legal judgment, see Silar.

4 I take this term from Tomasch.

5 For Franciscan texts based on 101, see Fleming; for discussion of the uses of number in Pearl, see Bishop, Pearl in Its Setting, pp. 27-32; Peck, pp. 44-51, 58-64; and Røstvig.

6 Fein, pp. 368, 382; Gordon, ed., Pearl, pp. 86-87; David Lawton, "Middle English Alliterative Poetry: An Introduction," in Middle English Alliterative Poetry and Its Literary Background: Seven Essays, ed. David Lawton (Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1982), pp. 8-9.

7 Marie Borroff, Pearl: A Verse Translation (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), p. 35.

8 Darrel Mansell, "Metaphor as Matter," Language and Literature 17 (1992), 117.

9 Peter Sacks, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), pp. 1-37.

10 Stanbury, "The Body and the City in Pearl"; for the gendering of the poem's embodied language, see Cox.

11 Muscatine, pp. 37, 40; see also Putter, who speaks of the poet's "techniques of defamiliarization" (p. 156).

12 Angus McIntosh, "A New Approach to Middle English Dialectology," English Studies 44 (1963), 1-11; H. N. Duggan, "Meter, Stanza, Vocabulary, Dialect," in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 240-42.

13 For a discussion of this question and of regional versus urban production in Ricardian poetry, see Turville-Petre, pp. 276-94.

14 Duggan, "Meter," pp. 238-39, cites Norman Hinton, "The Language of the Gawain-Poems," Arthurian Interpretations 2 (1987), 83-94, and an unpublished paper by Hinton.

15 W. G. Cooke, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Restored Dating," Medium Aevum 58 (1989), 34-48.

16 Fein, p. 393.

17 C. E. Wright, English Vernacular Hands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), p. 15.

18 For a review of the discussion, see Andrew, "Theories of Authorship," in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 26-28.

19 A. S. G. Edwards, "The Manuscript: British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x," in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 197, 210. For a reconsideration of the illustrations and argument that they were composed with attention to the numerological and thematic issues of the poems, see Reichardt.

20 For a study of the thematic similarities among the four poems, see Spearing, The Gawain-Poet.

21 Oscar Cargill and Margaret Schlauch, "The Pearl and Its Jeweler," PMLA 43 (1928), 105-23.

22 For essays advancing the Mascy hypothesis, see Ormerod Greenwood, trans., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (London: Lion and Unicorn Press, 1956), pp. 6-12; Barbara Nolan and David Farley-Hills, "The Authorship of Pearl: Two Notes," Review of English Studies n.s. 22 (1971), 295-302; William Vantuono, "A Name in the Cotton MS. Nero A.x Article 3," Medieval Studies 34 (1975), 537-42, and "John de Mascy "; Katherine Adam, The Anomalous Stanza of Pearl: Does it Disclose a Six-Hundred Year Old Secret? (Fayetteville: Monograph Publishers, 1976); Eric Kooper, "The Case of the Encoded Author: John Massey in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 83 (1982), 158-68. For counter arguments see Thorlac Turville-Petre and Edward Wilson, "Hoccleve, 'Maister Massy', and the Pearl-Poet: Two Notes," Review of English Studies n.s. 26 (1975), 129-43; Clifford Peterson and Edward Wilson, "Hoccleve, the Old Hall Manuscript, Cotton Nero A.x and the Pearl-Poet," Review of English Studies n.s. 28 (1977), 49-56. These arguments are summarized in detail by Andrew, in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 28-31; see also William Vantuono, ed., The Pearl Poems, pp. xxii-xxiv.

23 James Wimsatt, The Marguerite Poetry of Guillaume de Machaut (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970), pp. 40-41; see also Travis, "Chaucer's Heliotropes," pp. 404-05.

24 For symbolism of pearls, see Donkin, pp. 250-75; and for studies with application to Pearl, see Bishop, Pearl in Its Setting, pp. 51-98; Kean, pp. 143-47; Bogdanos; and the brief but cogent discussion in Gordon, ed., pp. xxvii-xxix. For readings of the poem as developmental spiritual allegory, see Blenkner; Wimsatt, pp. 122-33; Hamilton; Finlayson; and Clopper.

25 Gollancz, in his 1921 edition, provides an imaginary biography for the poet in which a formative episode is his daughter's death, pp. xl-xlvi. A more recent autobiographical narrative has been constructed by Bowers, "The Politics of Pearl," pp. 432-41.

26 Gollancz, pp. 258-85, appends an edition and translation of Olympia to his edition.

27 See note 21.

28 Michael J. Bennett, "The Historical Background," in Brewer and Gibson, p. 84; the argument is detailed at length in John Bowers, The Politics of Pearl: Court Poetry.

29 Bishop, Pearl in Its Setting, pp. 113-21; Staley, "Pearl and the Contingencies of Love and Piety."

30 See Riddy, in Brewer and Gibson; Bowers, "Pearl in Its Royal Setting," p. 139; and especially Barr.

31 See David Aers, "Christianity for Courtly Subjects," in Brewer and Gibson, p. 94.

32 Bennett, "The Court of Richard II," pp. 11-16; and Bennett, "The Historical Background," p. 78.

33 Bennett, "The Historical Background," p. 81.

34 Bowers, "Pearl in Its Royal Setting," pp. 419-41.

35 Gervase Mathew, The Court of Richard II (London: Murray, 1968), pp. 38-39.

36 Bowers, "Pearl in Its Royal Setting," pp. 145-51.

37 Bennett, "The Court of Richard II," pp. 14-16; and Bowers, "Pearl in Its Royal Setting," pp. 151-55.

38 J. P. Oakden, Alliterative Poetry in Middle English (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1930), pp. 261-63; cited in Fein, p. 369n.

39 Joel Kaye, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 3, 219.

40 James Wimsatt, Chaucer and his French Contemporaries: Natural Music in the Fourteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), p. 96.

41 Travis, "Chaucer's Heliotropes," pp. 403-05.

42 Pearl's theology of reward has been recently addressed by Watson, "The Gawain-Poet as a Vernacular Theologian," in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 293-313. The relationship between the parable of the vineyard and concerns with labor and economics in late fourteenth-century England is addressed by Bowers, "The Politics of Pearl," pp. 419-41; and by Watkins.

43 See Jonathan Alexander, with Michael Michael and Martin Kauffmann, "The Last Things: Representing the Unrepresentable," in The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come, ed. Frances Carey (London: British Museum Press, 1999), pp. 49, 44.

44 See Phillips; Marti, pp. 44, 84-88; and Gatta.

45 See Whitaker; Field; Nolan, pp. 54-83; and Stanbury, Seeing the Gawain-Poet, pp. 21-35.

46 Vlasta Dvoraková, J. Krása, A. Merhautová, and K. Stejskal, Gothic Mural Painting in Bohemia and Moravia 1300-1378, trans. R. Finlayson-Samsour and I. Urwin (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 97; Alfred Thomas, Anne's Bohemia: Czech Literature and Society 1310-1420 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), p. 101.

47 Thomas, p. 19, also proposes Anne as a candidate.

48 For the text's representation of individual self-consciousness, see Aers; and Watkins.

49 Watson, in Brewer and Gibson, p. 312.

50 Gollancz, pp. xxiii-ivn. Gollancz's understanding of the poem as iambic tetrameter was based on an essay by C. S. Northup, "A Study of the Metrical Structure of the Middle English Poem The Pearl," PMLA 12 (1897), 326-40.

51 Gordon, p. 89.

52 Vantuono, The Pearl Poems, pp. liv-lv.

53 Duggan, "Libertine Scribes," pp. 219-37; and Duggan, "Meter, Stanza, Vocabulary, Dialect," in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 221-42. Pearl was first characterized as iambic tetrameter by Northrup; for a succinct description of the form in Pearl see Borroff, Pearl, pp. 32-35.

54 Duggan's argument that the poet wrote a metrically regular line that the scribe, or scribes, transformed is based in part on recent studies defining the metrical characteristics of the alliterative long line; see Duggan, "Final -E and the Rhythmic Structure of the B-Verse in Middle English Alliterative Poetry," Modern Philology 86 (1988), 119-45; Marie Borroff, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Stylistic and Metrical Study (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962); and Thorlac Turville-Petre, The Alliterative Revival (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1977). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cleanness, and Patience, the three alliterative poems of the manuscript, the scribe consistently makes lines unmetrical by the uses of dissyllabic forms, writing other for or. In copying Pearl, the scribe makes similar changes, using dissyllabic forms to transform metrically regular lines to unmetrical ones; Duggan, "Libertine Scribes," pp. 224-25.
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Pearl: Introduction

by: Sarah Stanbury (Editor)
from: Pearl  2001

The poem known as Pearl was written in England in the fourteenth century. It exists today in a small vellum manuscript, one of the treasures of the British Library, MS Cotton Nero A.x., as the first of four poems copied by a single scribe. Following Pearl are three more alliterative narratives, two of them, Patience and Cleanness, retellings of Old Testament stories, and the last the Arthurian masterpiece, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. All four poems were probably written by the same poet, but who that poet was remains a mystery, as indeed does much of the manuscript's history. There is little surprising about the absence of an author's name attached to one or all of these poems; until the fifteenth century and later, writers working in English seldom signed their work. English was perhaps deemed too common and "vernacular" to bear claiming in a world where French had remained the lingua franca of international courtly business and of English high culture since the time of the Norman conquest. What is more surprising is the apparent marginalization of these sophisticated and exuberant poems. To gauge the popularity of a text in a pre-print culture, we can often use the number of surviving manuscripts as a general guide. For Pearl, Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, there remains only the one in which they have survived together. To gain a sense of a work's importance in its own time we can also pay attention to its critical legacy, the responses of contemporaries and followers, for popular narratives intercalate richly with other texts as writers read and borrow from each other. For the texts in the Pearl manuscript there exist only the vaguest of echoes in later writings to suggest that they were read or known at all. Yet these poems rank with the works of Chaucer and Langland for wit, virtuosity with language and prosody, learnedness, and sheer skill in telling a story.

Pearl, the first poem in the manuscript, leads off with a rich display of these qualities in a story of crossing-over, the stepping out from the ordinary life into a parallel universe where things operate by different natural laws: down the rabbit hole, through the wardrobe or looking glass, across the ocean to be shipwrecked on Prospero's island or, more recently, across a bridge to the island of Willow Springs in Gloria Naylor's haunting novel, Mama Day, where the crossing-over moves into a place of memory and hope, the nostalgic space of home as well as Beulah or Eden, the earthly paradise. If Pearl resists identification by author, date, occasion, or place of composition, it can be localized by its conversation with other stories of crossing-over, which most often take the form in the Middle Ages of dream visions, stories of transport that occur when the figure telling the story falls asleep. As a narrative structure, the dream vision claims a deep heritage in some of the most widely read vernacular texts of western European culture. The Italian Divine Comedy by Dante and the French Roman de la Rose, begun by Guillaume de Lorris and continued by Jean de Meun, both seem to have been read and known by the author of Pearl. The use of the dream as a narrative point of departure also structures the English Piers Plowman by William Langland and the four great dream visions by Geoffrey Chaucer. What these narratives share - and indeed, what it may be said that all stories of crossing-over share - is a place of possibility, where the narrative begins with a sense of being stuck or even trapped and then moves into a place of freedom or expansiveness. In his dream the narrator of Pearl slips into an "aventure," which means "marvel" or "quest" (line 64). Dante at the opening of Inferno is trapped in a dark wood, in the middle of his life, but in his vision becomes a traveler in time and space, circling down through hell and then climbing up to a vision of paradise. Harry Potter is virtually a prisoner of the Dursleys, but transposed to Hogwarts, he is the airborne star of quidditch.

Pearl similarly opens in a setting that emphasizes limits: "clos," meaning "set" or "enclosed," is a key word of the second line. In its staging of a dream vision, Pearl is explicitly situated within a courtly and aristocratic world; and indeed, the poem in many respects takes its shape and particular power from the interplay between a courtly habitus, a place of money, judgment, pleasures, and rules of behavior, and the uncanny yet familiar space of the crossing-over. Beginning with a precious object, the poem also opens with attention to location and surveillance, set in motion through acts of judgment in familiar kinds of spaces. The jeweler/narrator looks at and judges gems in general; he has one in particular in a splendid setting, so "clanly clos" (line 2), but it falls from him and disappears into the ground; his "[a]llas" (line 9) precipitates the poem backwards into the past through a memory of loss.

The poem takes off from this point of departure as a story of loss and a quest, opening as well in a space that can only move outward from containment: the pearl in a setting, the earth into which the pearl disappears, the garden into which the narrator enters to grieve it. Following the narrator's swoon in the garden, he finds himself in a landscape peculiarly transformed into a place of natural delights, evocative of accounts of the earthly paradise and also of the sensuous love gardens that appear so frequently in medieval literature. In this sinuous Eden he forgets what he has lost. He follows a stream and enjoys the pleasures of the senses - fragrances of flowers and fruit, birdsong, the light through the leaves. Soon, however, he is literally brought up short when he sees a young woman standing on the other side of the brook. Dressed all in white, with a large pearl in the middle of her breast, she is disturbingly familiar. He asks her if she is his lost pearl, a question that she evades as she points to his faulty logic in saying that she is lost. From this point the story moves into a dialogue. In a passionate interrogation the narrator struggles to place her within known frames of reference and even to reclaim her: how can she be lost (dead) and found? Now that he has found her again, how can he give her up? Where does she live? How can she, who lived "not two yer" (line 483) in our land, be a queen in heaven? To his questions she responds with answers that are both learned and measured, and occasionally even disciplinary, meeting the rage of his questions with cool theological puzzles: he cannot understand the divide between them because she has moved to a place that operates by an apparently different set of laws - and whose operations form the intellectual substance of her replies. To his questions about where she lives, she promises him a sight of her home, and finally leads him to a vision of a beautiful city, the New Jerusalem, where she lives as a bride of the Lamb. This forms the final location of the vision, a visionary chthonic moment that moves him to try to cross the stream. It is at that point that he wakes up, and the poem ends.

Metaphor and Form

In the great dream vision stories of the Middle Ages, the drama of the other-world adventure is made explicitly homely or familiar through use of a first-person narrator, and one who conventionally falls into certain categories of "ordinariness": he is foolish or middle-aged, or overtired, or sad. The use of a first-person voice, coupled with techniques of familiarization, make it easy to assume the narrator's persona and go along for the ride. In Pearl that assumption or costuming in the narrator's identity quickly plays into a story of troubled equivalence, since from the first word we get it wrong; what we take as a pearl, we soon find out, is more than a pearl. The pearl is a metaphor whose various meanings, unfolding as the story progresses, are subject to repeated reassessment. Paul Ricoeur speaks of metaphor as a "planned category mistake" in which linguistic limits and categories are willfully broken to engage new possibilities: "the power of metaphor would be to break an old categorization, in order to establish new logical frontiers on the ruins of their forerunners."1 Metaphor, that is, forces a reevaluation of assumed truths: things may be as they seem, but are also more than they seem. As it takes on narrative form, ordering a set of meanings over and beyond the literal, metaphor becomes allegory. In medieval dream visions, most of them allegories, we are particularly aware of the divide between things in their essences or "object-hoods" and the contingencies of value and desire that circulate about them. Even as the naïve wanderer in the dream vision encounters a cyber world, rich and strange, the living body of the narrator is always present at the margins of the story, asleep in a swoon, however much we forget him or her (in medieval vision literature, invariably him) - and is a reminder that things operate according to familiar physical laws.

Pearl mobilizes a set of "calculated category mistakes" through the responses of both the reader and the narrator, and also through an extraordinarily rich set of changes rung on language throughout the poem. Both narrator and reader engage in acts of misreading and misinterpretation; and, in fact, the narrator's acts of passionate misreading structure the dialogue with the Pearl-maiden, which takes the form of a quiz in which he repeatedly tries to categorize her within known and familiar frames of reference - a set of collisions, we could argue, that pit the familiar surround of courtly culture, the narrator's ambit, against the scriptural stories and visions that the maiden lays out in the answers - that sets allegorical "truths" with particular abruptness against sense perception. We begin with the loss of a pearl in a garden; that pearl, we find out, is also a girl, the narrator's two-year-old daughter; it is also the kingdom of heaven described in Matthew 14:45-46: "the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant seeking valuable pearls, who, when he had found a pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Pearl sets in motion a set of "category mistakes" that comment uneasily on the very nature of categories: what is a pearl? What is a girl? How do we know or evaluate what we see? What are the bases of aristocratic identity and affinity?

One of the particular achievements of Pearl lies in its overlay of a linear narrative with a set of metaphoric registers that with extraordinary facility rewrites the definitions of the poem's central terms. That which appears fixed, stable, and known is not: like the pearl itself, which slips away to transform into something else, words recur throughout the poem with new meanings. The economy of metaphor, or rather its hyper-economy, lies in its uncanny ability to express both equivalence and multiplicity; ostensibly an equation of identity, marked by an equal sign, metaphor also adds up to the sum of its parts.2 The pearl is a gem, is a two-year old child, is a beautiful young woman, is the immortal soul, is the heavenly city - as well as a collective of the properties that inhere to each term singly. The language of Pearl is unusually rich in the double entendre, also a form of metaphor, particularly in terms for judgment and evaluation.3 Indeed, Pearl uses a dizzying punnology, embedded within concepts, words and grammatical structures and even within the system of its meter and rhyme,4 as if in invitation to engage with language as an encounter with haunting and repetition. In the first set of stanzas, the stanza-group in which the narrator returns to the place or spot where his pearl - née daughter - was lost, "spot" recurs in ways that force associative relationships between location and absence, between the set of compass points that places him physically and the negativity that marks the pearl as both without stain (without "spot") and without a place (without "spot") in his world. In this elegy, the instability of language recapitulates or, we might say, performs the poem's story of bereavement. Language itself tells us all we need to know about loss.

Integral to the poem's play with language are formal patternings that build repetition and change into the structure of the poem. In its principles of rhyme, versification, and numbering, Pearl is unmatched for complexity in Middle English poetry and perhaps rivaled only by Dante's Divine Comedy. Attention to number is a vital part of the poem's design. The use of a twelve-line stanza seems to be carefully chosen as part of a numerological structure: the New Jerusalem has twelve tiers in its foundation and is also twelve furlongs long; the poem itself, 1212 lines long, is a composite of twelves. Concepts of perfection and blemish parlayed through the image of the pearl are also graphed through number. Comprising twenty sets of five, the stanzas are grouped to add up to 100, a number of perfection. This symmetry is offset, however, by the curious addition of an extra stanza in the fifteenth set - with the result that the stanzas total 101. One hundred and one, a strong number that suggests new beginning after return, is doubtless no accident. This number appears as a stanza or chapter total in several other medieval texts; and most strikingly, 101 is also the sum of the stanzas of the Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript's most famous poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.5

Repetition and change also structure the prosodic form of Pearl to an unusual degree. The stanzas themselves follow a tight rhyme scheme, with three sets of rhyme appearing in each: ababababbcbc. In stanza form, Pearl shares many affinities with French, Italian, and Latin fourteenth-century poems as well as with other lyrics in English from the late thirteenth century through the early fifteenth century. In its use of heavy alliteration and a complex stanza form Pearl bears some similarities to the lyrics from MS Harley 2253, c. 1340. In prosodic form, however, it shares closer affinities with later poems. Pearl's use of a refrain and a twelve-line form of the ballade or pseudo-ballade stanza link it with a continental form that first appeared in English with lyrics by Chaucer, c. 1380, and that is used in several of the lyrics in the Vernon manuscript (c. 1390).6 Pearl's stanza moves with a rippling kind of musicality: two rhyme words alternate until the final four lines, which often work as a quatrain, where one of the rhymes continues, and a new counterpoint is picked up. Rhyme moves the poem in increments of repetition and change. As Marie Borroff describes the effect of rhyme in the ballade stanza, it is "like a series of shifts to the next higher musical key in successive choruses of a popular song."7

Where Pearl departs from English and continental forms of the ballade, however, is in its use of an intricate system of verbal echoes. While a refrain and verbal repetition are common features of late medieval lyrics, both English and continental, Pearl transforms the refrain into an echoic play of concatenation. Not only do the five stanzas in each stanza-group share a repeating last word and often entire line, but stanzas are also linked together by repetition of the last word of the refrain of one stanza in the first line of the next, an echoic effect that strings stanzas together like pearls on a necklace. Pearl's mathematically precise system of stanza numbering and its uses of repetition and verbal linking produce a poem that is crafted with unusual care, the poem itself as a kind of precious object. At the same time, however, repetition of its link-words also allows an unusual latitude and play with the possibilities of meaning. In each stanza within a stanza-group the final word is always the same, but the line in which that word is embedded is not, so meaning can vary by syntax as well as by the play of lexical possibilities within words themselves. Far from restricting or confining meaning, Pearl's elaborate form allows the fullest play of its punnology. Words may repeat and return, but return as altered bearers of meaning.

The experience of reading Pearl can thus be unsettling, for while the story, as a narrative, appears to proceed in a sequential or linear way, the multiple meanings that radiate out from central terms, and the shifts in its categories that displace from its central image, are far less clear, particularly in the hallucinatory transformation of the pearl to the beautiful young woman who herself is understood to represent a two-year-old child, presumably the narrator's daughter. Yet at the same time that language and prosody enact processes of transformation on the pearl, and even theological possibilities of post-mortem transfiguration, its central metaphor never departs fully from its primary identity: the pearl is a pearl. Writing of the curious materiality of metaphor, Darrel Mansell locates the impulse to metaphor in a desire to ground language in objects, an impulse he assigns to a yearning for a mythic lost time of pre-linguistic plenitude when things were as they seemed: in metaphor, which is always a surplus, "the original world of matter is glimpsed still almost innocent of predication."8 In Pearl, language and image never abandon the materiality of their metaphoric point of departure. Pearl, that is, continues to be the word/name that the narrator utters when addressing the maiden. Pearls appear throughout the transformed landscape of the crossed-over world: in the gems gleaming in the river, in the clothing of the maiden and indeed in the very whiteness of her skin, on the gates of the New Jerusalem, and, metaphorically, in the pearly fleece of the Lamb.

This material grounding in pearls points to a question: is pearl afferent or referent? Signifier or signified? While the pearl is of course a symbol for the evanescent or the spiritual, the child and/or immortal soul, and the narrator's search for the pearl an allegory for a spiritual search, the pearl lends the poem a peculiar materiality and presence; it is not just a point of departure. In his study of the elegy Peter Sacks writes of the ways that elegiac poetry grounds itself repetitively, indeed obsessively, in objects, replaying in poetry and in language the central trauma of loss, Freud's fort/da. The elegy, Sacks writes, is hauntingly recapitulative in impulse and form, replaying a series of losses that looks back to an originary trauma, the primal separation from maternal plenitude.9 Language in elegy is unusually concretized, Sacks argues, and in Pearl we can perhaps see how the poem's central metaphor or object also enacts this material requirement.10 The poem offers consolation through the maiden's discourse on the delights of heaven, but perhaps an even deeper consolation in the visual promise that that which is lost, the pearl, does not go away.

Contexts: Date, Authorship, Occasion

To this point I have been concerned with the poem's uses of words and of techniques of prosody as tools skillfully deployed to produce emotional and aesthetic effects - and effects, as we shall see, that are also ethically and politically charged. The poem's uses of language and of images, and especially the pearl, can also help to localize a possible time, place, and occasion for its composition. Efforts to identify a date and occasion of composition and an author for the poems of the Pearl manuscript, indeed, have occupied the attention of numerous scholars in the last century. Pearl, along with Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is remarkably evasive on matters that could identify a time and place of its composition, such as names of living people, real places, or current events, a feature of all four poems that Charles Muscatine has speculated is a form of escapism or reaction through "allegiance to high-medieval feudalism."11 Some evidence for localizing the manuscript is provided by dialect, which has been identified as Northwest Midlands. Both text and manuscript have been localized to Cheshire, with a recent study by Hoyt Duggan placing the poet's natal dialect in Staffordshire and the scribe somewhat more northerly.12 The dialect of the poems is difficult for most speakers of English today, for standard modern English has descended not from the Cheshire dialect of the Northwest Midlands but from London English, used by Chaucer and his London contemporaries. Although the dialect can locate the language of poet and scribe within a fairly precise isoglos, it does not necessarily identify the place of composition; and one question that has perplexed scholars is whether the poems are the product of a regional and provincial culture, or whether they could be at home in a much more central and urban location, or even the London court.13 As for dating, language provides no clear evidence that can pinpoint the poems with precision, though one computer-based statistical study calibrating the percentages of words of Germanic, French, or Scandinavian origin indicates that the etymological mix of Cotton Nero A.x. is consistent with Middle English in 1390.14 Use of descriptive details in these poems for purposes of dating can be particularly slippery. One scholar has attempted to locate Gawain in the mid-1300s on the basis of costume and armor; yet those details could well be the product of calculated invention to situate the poem in a somewhat earlier time.15 In her study of Pearl and the ballade form Susanna Fein argues for dating Pearl in the mid-1380s, but that date may attempt to pinpoint its production somewhat too exactly.16 As with language or details of place and costume, evidence from prosody can more securely suggest an earliest date rather than a final one, since a poet working somewhat later (1390s) could have chosen to work within a traditional form rather than attempt the latest thing. For fixed points regarding the production of these poems we have two dates that are quite widely separated in time. The earliest date must be 1348, the date for the founding of the order of the garter, whose motto, "honi soit qui mal pense," appears as a coda to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. On paleographical evidence the terminus ad quem must be c. 1400, the latest date for the composition of the manuscript.17 While the question is by no means settled, recent research on the poems of the Pearl manuscript, and especially Gawain and Pearl, has tended to favor a late rather than an early date, in the 1380s or even the 1390s.

Authorship remains one of the prize questions about the poems of Cotton Nero A.x. Were the four poems contained in the Pearl manuscript written by a single poet, and might that poet also have written St. Erkenwald, a poem that has survived in a separate manuscript? St. Erkenwald, an alliterative London poem in the Cheshire dialect, shares many features of language and imagery, and on that basis has been linked with the Pearl-poet, though most readers now discount the connection.18 The argument for linking the four poems in the Cotton Nero A.x. manuscript to a single author rests on a good deal of subjective criteria but also on certain features of the manuscript itself that give it an unusual integrity. It is the unique Middle English manuscript to contain only alliterative poems; it also contains illustrations, an unusual feature in a Middle English verse manuscript.19 Dialect also argues in favor of common authorship, as do shared metrical and stylistic characteristics. Three are narratives written in an alliterative long line, and Pearl, a metrically regular poem, also makes use of alliterative patterning. Less quantifiably, the poems share certain thematic preoccupations: all four repeatedly pressure questions of behavior, or what we might call modeling, how one "confourns" or conforms to ideals of courtly or Christian behavior, to use a word from Cleanness. All four tell stories of crises in commensurating individual behavior with top-down or divine ordinances. All four present brilliantly visualized descriptions, particularly of nature, and make skilled and strategic uses of point of view. All four are "courtly."20

There is no firm evidence at all to suggest who might have written the poems, though numerous names have been put forth. The scholars who propose that Pearl is an elegy written on the death of Margaret, daughter of John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, also suggest that the poem was written by either John Prat or John Donne, both of them clerks of Pembroke.21 By far the candidate with the greatest longevity in the critical literature is Mascy or Massey. A spate of discussions has debated the possibility that the poems were written by a member of the Mascy family, a discussion initiated by linking the inscription "Hugo de" in the manuscript to the name "Masse" in St. Erkenwald, producing "Hugo de Masse," a name that can be connected to an important Cheshire family. Subsequent support for Mascy has drawn on a variety of cryptographic evidence, finding signatures hidden in the manuscript marginalia and encoded in the numbering and lettering.22 The idea that Pearl, in particular, could contain a cryptogram in its elaborate prosodic and mathematical structure is plausible. As I discuss below, some of the marguerite poems of Machaut and Froissart, with which Pearl can perhaps be linked, hide the names of the poet and the poetic subject within cryptograms, as if to suggest that a hidden authorial signature is part of the game with metaphor.23 Evidence from cryptography or other forms of textual and historical data has to date produced no consensus on the authorship of Pearl or any of the poems in Cotton Nero A.x, although it has produced many assertions.

In considering the occasion for which Pearl might have been written, the narrative form provides perhaps the most articulate evidence. Quite a few readers have approached Pearl as a formal allegory or spiritual quest, a poem that details the soul's progress, with the pearl as a symbol for certain bodily or spiritual qualities: purity or virginity; the soul; heaven.24 Pearl clearly is informed by mystical and devotional practices current in late fourteenth-century England. Yet Pearl, in form an allegory, is above all an elegy, a poem written about the death of one who was beloved. Most early readers of Pearl assumed that the poet was writing of the death of his own daughter, with the implication that the poem was written in an effort to "work through" his grief.25 An understanding of the systems of text production in the Middle Ages within structures of patronage now would argue against identifying the author with the narrator, and suggest instead that the poem was more likely a commissioned work, probably written as a consolatory piece to commemorate the death of a daughter, and probably the daughter of an important magnate or member of the royal house. As a possible source or model for Pearl, Boccaccio's Olympia is often mentioned, a poem in which a man named Silvio is granted a vision of Violante, his lost daughter, transformed and living as Olympia with the Virgin and Son on a paradisal mountain.26 Although Olympia and Pearl bear some notable parallels, the form of Boccaccio's poem as Latin eclogue and its classicizing allusions give it a markedly different tenor from Pearl. Closer to Pearl in form and feeling is Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, a dream vision elegy written on the occasion of the death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt. Names proposed for whom the poem could be commemorating include Margaret, granddaughter of Edward III,27 and Anne of Bohemia.28 Speculations on the occasion of the poem are not limited to elegy, however. Ian Bishop has suggested that the poem marks the initiation of an adult catechumen, or newly baptized person, and more recently Lynn Staley has suggested that the poem was composed to commemorate the entrance into a nunnery, a figurative death to the world, of an aristocratic child, and specifically Isabel, born in 1384 as third daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, one of the younger sons of Edward III.29

Courtly Economics and the Ricardian Court

By identifying the narrator as a jeweler and the central image as a pearl, the poet seems to be writing with the values and possessions of the rich clearly in mind. The term jeweler can encompass not only a goldsmith or artisan but also a dealer in or even owner of gems or art objects, and hence the projected identity of the speaker could be entirely at home among an aristocratic audience.30 The poem's central image keeps the poem firmly grounded in a world of money and exchange, a world whose values and deluxe detailing are consonant with the cultural values and fittings of the fourteenth-century English court. If consolation is effected in part in the return of its repressed, the pearl, it is also effected in the certainty that the world in which the poem is "set" is also fixed and stable. "Paye," the last word of the poem's first line and also the link-word of the last stanza-group and, indeed, final word of the poem, bespeaks a set of comfortably transposed values, and values that are fully legible within idealized terms of monied exchange: "paye" in the first line refers to the judgment and pleasure of princes, who value pearls; "pay" in the last line refers to the reward and pleasures of heaven.31 Indeed, the poem's elaborate gemmology and interest in aristocratic values have led recent scholars to argue for dating it in the last years of the fourteenth century and specifically within the milieu of Richard II's court. While these arguments are speculative, the circumstantial evidence is rich and tantalizing enough to merit summarizing here. Until recently the poem's dialect has led scholars to assume that it was produced within a monastic establishment or baronial home in Cheshire, and probably by a learned cleric intimately familiar with the Bible and also well-versed in French and Italian poetry. Recent studies on the cultural and even manpower interchanges between Cheshire and the royal court have led to a reevaluation of this view. Michael Bennett has argued persuasively that the poet's regional dialect does not limit the place of origin to a regional location. Richard II's court was fully hospitable to arts patronage of the kind that would support the Pearl-poet. Richard also surrounded himself with a large group of knights from Cheshire and elevated Cheshire to a region of prime importance: far from being an alien tongue, the dialect of the Pearl-poet would have been fully at home in Richard's court circles.32 Perhaps a highly sophisticated and learned cleric, writing with the interests and tastes of a court in mind and au courant with the reading tastes of international high culture, the poet of Pearl was above all a "courtier's courtier."33

John Bowers has further argued for a set of parallels between the poem and the cultural life of Richard's court, with particular attention to some of the poem's more dramatic and vivid images, including the pearl, the lamb, and the New Jerusalem.34 The remarkable detailing of ornament, the love of description as a kind of piling on of the deluxe, fits with particular consonance in Richard's court, which was often cited and criticized for extravagance by contemporary chroniclers. Richard's court was marked by its love of all things French, "a passion for jewelry in the court circles" and a love of aristocratic regalia.35 Bowers, proposing a date for Pearl in or around 1395, argues that Pearl bespeaks Richard's political aspirations, with the poem's court of heaven as a visionary courtly body politic.36 Both Bowers and Bennett have argued that the locus of the Pearl-poet within Richard II's court could also account for the demise and dramatic marginalization of this spectacular set of poems.37 This scenario, while built on circumstantial evidence, provides a fascinating if hypothetical po-litical backdrop for the manuscript's history. The manuscript that survives, in single form, is doubtless a copy of an earlier exemplar, and an exemplar that perhaps was quite lavish. One scholar has argued, on the basis of scribal errors, that the surviving manuscript is at six or seven removes from the original version.38 With the ascendancy of Henry IV and the Lancastrians after Richard's death or execution in 1399, the new court exacted a thorough repression of signs of the deposed king, extinguishing with particular thoroughness the Cheshire connection to promote London as the place of the new court, and of London English as the new language of the state. If the poems of the Pearl manuscript were a product of the Ricardian court, they could well have suffered a similar erasure. Written in the Cheshire dialect, the manuscript of Pearl might also have been the target of this systematic political repression and rewriting of the past.

Whether or not we situate Pearl within Richard II's court with the precision that Bowers and Bennett suggest, the poem certainly expresses many of the intellectual interests and aesthetic demands of an aristocratic milieu in the late fourteenth century - and an aristocratic milieu, it could be argued, that is at work to reconcile the pressures of the marketplace with both courtly and theological values. If the poem's visible surface is constructed of precious objects, from the pearl to the gem-encrusted and gilded New Jerusalem, those surfaces are also repeatedly subjected to speculation about their value and operate in the poem within a complex commentary on measure, merit, quantification and valuation. In a recent study of market economics and scholastic theology in the fourteenth century, Joel Kaye argues that a "passion to measure," which came to pervade every area of scholastic thinking in the fourteenth century, was directly influenced by the new monetization of the European marketplace. Rather than emerging solely from within intellectual debates within universities, the "measuring mania" of scholastic philosophy was directly influenced by interactions between gown and town; geometrical theorems of a new economics responded directly to daily transactions in the market squares in a dynamic interaction that, Kaye argues, was crucial to the development of scientific methodologies. Some of the most dramatic developments in new economic thinking in the fourteenth century, and particularly in geometry, concerned theories of equalization and commensurability, for money, like geometry, "commensurated the most seemingly in-commensurable goods and services."39

In Pearl, with its intricate numerological structure, verbal concatenation, and complex rhyme, we certainly find evidence of a "measuring mania," and indeed the poem could be described as a study in issues of relation - with language, in its rich metaphoricity and punnologies, itself a medium of exchange. The image of the pearl may itself situate the poem within a dialogue among late fourteenth-century poets on poetic composition, and particularly on the instability of language in a commensurate set of relationships. Another word for pearl is "margery," from the French marguerite, a term that is used to designate the pearl four times in the poem. Marguerite was a popular female name, given prominence, no doubt, by the tremendous vogue of St. Margaret in the late Middle Ages, and in French marguerite was also the word for the daisy or heliotrope. In 1364 Guillaume de Machaut, the popular French composer and poet, wrote the first of several "marguerite" poems, with the marguerite an allegorical daisy designating an actual woman, Marguerite of Flanders.40 Following Machaut, marguerite poems, several of which take an allegorical daisy as an elaborate conceit to designate historical women, were also written in French by Machaut's contemporaries, Jean Froissart and Eustache Deschamps, and in English by Chaucer. It seems quite possible that the poet of Pearl, which also rings a set of changes between a "margery pearl" and a young girl or young woman, was familiar with at least some of these poems. In an essay on metaphor and the marguerite poems, Peter Travis has recently argued that the marguerite poems constitute an international dialogue of sorts among poets. In the marguerite poems, their practitioners were engaged in an exploration, through a metaphor, of the instability of language, or indeed, of the very workings of poetry.41

The theology of Pearl, played out in images and in the debate between the narrator and the maiden, also circles repeatedly around the problematics of relation. The poem's central homily, the maiden's long story of the parable of the vineyard and the penny, takes as its central problem the issue of relation or of equivalence, and specifically the commensurability between the rewards of the marketplace and the rewards of heaven: how is it that an infant, the narrator asks, can merit the same reward in heaven as those who have lived a long and devout life, or even those who have given their lives over to the church in the most directed ways as nuns or clerics?42 In the parable the maiden tells to answer this question, the court - in this case the heavenly court - is ordered by a utopic labor system, one that resolves by edict the central tensions about fairness that govern market labor and exchange. The parable, a kind of homily or sermon right in the middle of the vision, seems surprisingly long and almost digressive, but as an explanation of the economics of a heavenly marketplace, it is strategically situated immediately before the vision of the New Jerusalem that will put theory into practice. The parable offers a textual definition of "paye" or reward.

The vision of the New Jerusalem that follows the parable, the most elaborately detailed of the poem's sequence of locations, is itself introduced as a problem in relation, voiced in the narrator's demand to the Pearl-maiden to know where she lives, and then in his incredulity that she, a two-year-old child, could be elevated to the status of a queen in such a place. In choosing the New Jerusalem as the climactic moment in which the two-year-old child is perceived fully transposed as a full participant in the heavenly court, a bride of the Lamb, the poet makes a brilliant strategic move to accommodate, in Kaye's terms, quantities that are incommensurable. As the final location in Pearl's sequence of transforming places, the New Jerusalem is a rich and multi-layered symbol, understood in medieval theology and allegory to represent the soul, heaven, and both ideal city and ideal church. Frequently painted or sculpted on the west wall of the church, either inside or out, images of the Lamb and the throne of God and images of the Last Judgment marked central points of entrance - and, indeed, the saved from the damned. St. Peter's in Rome, an important pilgrimage site, had on its façade a mosaic of the adoration of the Lamb by the twenty-four elders, the same image that is the culminating moment in Pearl.43 In a dramatic final move that ties mystical transport to daily collective ritual, the New Jerusalem in Pearl also takes the narrative into a church, as if the textual city were itself an invitation over a triumphal arch, a theophanic move that is furthered as well by Eucharistic echoes. Some readers have suggested that the poem unfolds in imitation of the Mass, and that the pearl signifies the host; the round pearl enclosed in gold denotes a round and white Eucharistic wafer, displayed in a monstrance44 - an equivalence that I would argue is just one of many in the poem's rich metaphoric display. The image of the Lamb, both symbol and enactment of the Eucharist, places the narrator, and reader as well, before the Eucharist, or more exactly within the performance of the Mass. In a final accommodation the New Jerusalem offers a housing not only for the maiden, but also for those who participate in the sacraments.

The New Jerusalem as depicted in Pearl is above all a power image, carefully keyed to the tastes and intellectual interests of an aristocratic audience in the late Middle Ages. The main textual source is the Book of Revelation, but the poet was evidently familiar with visual schema for representing the city in Apocalypse cycles, many examples of which survive in deluxe manuscripts.45 Apocalypse cycles decorated not only the triumphal arches of churches and cathedrals, but also royal chapels and chapter houses. An elaborate Apocalypse cycle that still decorates the walls of Chapel of the Holy Cross at Karlstein Castle in Bohemia offers an example of the close ties between royal interests and devotional economics of salvation. Built in 1348-57 at a country residence for Charles IV that was also a treasury for the crown jewels, the chapel includes among the scenes painted on the walls between the arches the adoration of the Lamb by the elders with musical instruments, as in Pearl. In this exquisite gothic chapel the Apocalypse cycle seems designed to provide a housing not only for the imperial jewels but also for imperial souls. The woman clothed with the sun is symbolically equated with Anne of Schweidnitz, third wife of Charles IV.46 While a chapel in a Bohemian castle may seem remote from the compositional context of Pearl, shared cultural interests in the late Middle Ages and the international movement of artists created a rich cosmopolitan exchange in patterns, subjects, and styles. If Pearl were produced in the circle of Richard II in the 1380s or 1390s, the choice to use the New Jerusalem as the poem's visionary destination could even be imagined as a deliberate one. In 1381 Richard married Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV. Doubtless Anne would have known of her father's chapel at Karlstein and have been familiar with its visual story of the Apocalypse. Bennett and Bowers even suggest that Pearl may have been composed as an elegy for Anne, who died in 1394.47 If that is so, the New Jerusalem would be an entirely fitting housing for her imperial soul. A favorite image for aristocratic patrons, Pearl's New Jerusalem, one might speculate, was strategically chosen to link not only this world with eternity, but also England with Bohemia and a royal international lineage.

In the culminating vision of the New Jerusalem, the poet overlays sharply contrasting ways of knowing and seeing. On the one hand, the narrator moves expansively from an enclosed garden to the mystical city; on the other, the dreamer passes through the delightfully open meadows of the otherworld to end the vision within a walled edifice in many ways evocative of the church. This overlay or juxtaposition in spatial resolution gives us the poem's most skillful act of commensuration, linking the unmeasurable with the measurable: we can be both here and there. "Here" and "there" are extravagant in latitude. Of the many desires expressed in this poem, a controlling drive is a passion for equalizing, the structuring of equivalences according to linguistic, musical, and mathematical models that can make it possible for a lost child to be a resident of the heavenly kingdom or, for that matter, for ordinary and aristocratic folks alike to attain salvation: the parochial moves engaged with the imagery of the New Jerusalem suggest that like rewards are available if we will be docile subjects, faithful parishioners and observers of the sacraments. Crucial to the narrator's spiritual progress, I would argue, is his understanding of accommodation, the "calculated category mistake" that makes it possible for the pearl, or lost child, to be both lost and found. On an individual level, Pearl describes the difficulties of the individual who we might say is "working through" grief with the aid of devotional psychology. On the collective level, Pearl offers the promise that the particular accommodation represented in the vision, the maiden one of 144,000 brides of Christ, can be available to all. And if the New Jerusalem suggests a figurative movement into clerical space replete with Eucharistic echoes, that transposition is even given an explicitly homely dimension in the poem's final stanza-group, when the narrator awakens roughly from the dream to acknowledge the consolation to be found in the daily ritual of the Mass, the subjection of the self to the social and ritual order.

A question that lingers with Pearl, and perhaps that accounts for much of its appeal, lies with the body of the narrator: does the poem resolve in an aristocratized and utopic vision, or is there a remnant, the narrator himself, not totally encapsulated within a formal sacramental or courtly system? The narrator skulks the banks of the stream: he cannot cross, and when he tries he awakens, and not very happily. Does he become, as he asserts, a docile subject (taking the sacrament), or does he remain a single consciousness, separate from the vision of metaphoric accumulation that he witnesses?48 Excluded from paradise, is he the "spot" or blot, the one hundred and first stanza, so to speak? Among readers there has been little consensus on this point. Longing and what we might call "reality" seem to be across the stream, and perhaps how we read the resolution will depend on how compelling we find the poem's vision of theophany. However communal the vision of heaven, that social order, as one reader has put it, is of a fully "aristocratized theology."49 Juxtaposed to the individualized venture works a public, hierar-chic, and above all courtly performance.

Notes on This Edition

Pearl's first printer and modern editor was Richard Morris, who edited Pearl for the Early English Text Society in 1864. Before Morris' edition, Pearl had remained in manuscript form. The first mention of the poem appears in a catalogue of books belonging to Henry Savile of Yorkshire, a collector of manuscripts from the northern monasteries (1568-1617). By 1621 the manuscript had been acquired by the antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton, where it remained until 1700, when the Cotton collection was given to the British nation, and finally to the British Museum in 1753.

Early printed editions of Pearl tended to the view that the copyist, or scribe, had produced a text substantively different from the poet's intent. Israel Gollancz, who edited Pearl in 1891 and then again in 1921, included in his later edition 124 emendations, or corrections, to the manuscript. Many of Gollancz's emendations were aimed at restoring metrical regularity to a poem he understood to be in a form of iambic tetrameter, with four regular stresses to a line.50 Later editors, however, increasingly retained the scribe's transcription. A tendency to adhere to the scribe's version of the poem was based in part on E. V. Gordon's influential characterization of the poem's highly problematic meter as a form in effect corrupted by the influence of the alliterative long line. Under the influence of writing alliterative verse, the poet wrote Pearl in a hybrid form that is part metrical verse, part alliterative line: "the chief effect of this close relationship is that the line is not measured, has not a fixed number of syllables, like the lines of French verse, nor is it systematically iambic or anapaestic, as the modern reader tends to make it."51 A reluctance to correct potential errors in the manuscript also reflects practices in textual editing in general, which have tended against emending texts in cases where there is only a single copy. Andrew and Waldron, in their important edition of 1979, revised in 1996, have ninety-one emendations, and generally follow the lead of Gordon, the poem's most important modern editor (1953), in emending for lexical sense rather than for meter. The most recent edition, William Vantuono's from 1984, aiming to retain manuscript readings "wherever possible," has only twelve emendations.52

In its use of emendation to restore the regularity of the meter, this edition has more in common with Gollancz than with Vantuono. The poet who wrote Pearl had an expert ear for sound, language, and music, and it is hard to account for the poem's many rhythmically clashing stresses and mismetered lines unless we attribute them to the poem's copyists. Recent studies on alliterative meter and also on Pearl have mounted convincing arguments that the Pearl poet was a careful metrical stylist, and that deviations from metrical regularity represent scribal editing rather than authorial intent. Hoyt Duggan has recently argued that the poet wrote not in a hybrid and irregularly metrical form, as Gordon supposed, but in a regular iambic tetrameter, as described nearly ninety years ago in early studies on the poem's meter and more recently by Marie Borroff.53 The poem uses alliteration, but in ways markedly different from the patternings of unrhymed alliterative poetry.54 For the purposes of reading, Pearl should be thought of, as Borroff describes, as "iambic tetrameter varied by an occasional anapest" (p. 32), a form that she also compares to Gerard Manly Hopkins' sprung rhythm. There are four stresses to a line, but an irregular number of dips in between stresses. Final -e is not normally sounded, but occasionally it is required to avoid clashing stress - required, that is, to provide a dip between two words, often monosyllabic, that are stressed, as in line 17, "my herte thrange." Many of the lines have a natural pause, or caesura, in mid-line. In this edition I have added final e to remove clashing stress in the middle of the line, following the lead of Gollancz and Duggan.

In transcription of the manuscript, I have followed METS guidelines. Thorns and edhs are written as th, and yoghs have been transcribed as g, gh, y, s, according to the letter in modern spelling that the sound represented by the yogh has come to represent. T plus yogh is written as s. Manuscript abbreviations have been silently expanded. My choices for word division, often ambiguous in the manuscript, are indicated in the notes only where the choice of where to divide a word poses a significant interpretive problem. The manuscript, like many medieval English texts, is unpunctuated. I have punctuated minimally for sense. Lines are only rarely enjambed. In Pearl, the line is paramount as the unit of thought. In the notes, I have indicated manuscript forms as well as emendations adopted among a group of six comparison editions.

Go To Pearl
Select Bibliography

Editions of Pearl

Anderson, J. J., ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; Cleanness; Patience. Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1996. [Revision of 1976 Everyman edition by A. C. Cawley and J. J. Anderson.]

Andrew, Malcolm, and Ronald Waldron, eds. The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London: Edward Arnold, 1978. Third ed. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996.

Cawley, A. C. Pearl; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. New York: Dutton, 1962.

Chase, Stanley P. The Pearl: The Text of the Fourteenth-Century English Poem. Boston: Humphries, 1932.

Gollancz, Sir Israel, ed. and trans. Pearl. London: Chatto and Windus, 1891; rev. ed., 1897. Second ed. as Pearl, Edited with Modern Rendering, Together with Boccaccio's Olympia. London: Chatto and Windus, 1921.

Gordon, E. V., ed. Pearl. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953.

Hillmann, Sister Mary V., ed. and trans. The Pearl, Medieval Text with a Literal Translation and Interpretation. [Convent Station, NJ]: College of St. Elizabeth, 1961; rev. ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967.

Moorman, Charles. The Works of the Gawain-Poet. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1977.

Morris, Richard. Early English Alliterative Poems in the West-Midland Dialect of the Fourteenth Century. EETS o.s. 1. London: Trübner, 1864. Rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Osgood, Charles G., ed. The Pearl. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1906.

Vantuono, William, ed. and trans. The Pearl Poems: An Omnibus Edition. Vol. 1: Pearl and Cleanness. New York: Garland, 1984.

Bibliographies and Reviews of Scholarship

Andrew, Malcolm. The Gawain-Poet: An Annotated Bibliography, 1839-77. New York: Garland, 1979.

Blanch, Robert J. "The Current State of Pearl Criticism." Chaucer Yearbook 3 (1996), 21-33. [Review essay on trends in scholarship.]

---. "Supplement to the Gawain-Poet: An Annotated Bibliography, 1978-85." Chaucer Review 25.4 (1991), 363-86.

Eldredge, Laurence. "The State of Pearl Studies Since 1933." Viator 6 (1975), 171-94. [Divides scholarship on Pearl into five categories: elegy or allegory debate; heretical or orthodox instruction; pearl symbolism; search for author; historicism.]

Foley, Michael. "The Gawain-Poet: An Annotated Bibliography, 1978-85." Chaucer Review 23.3 (1989), 250-82.


Ackerman, Robert W. "The Pearl-Maiden and the Penny." Romance Philology 17 (1964), 615-23. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 149-62. [English and Continental sources for female instructress and the parable of the vineyard; penny as Eucharistic host.]

Aers, David. "The Self Mourning: Reflections on Pearl." Speculum 68 (1993), 54-73. [Situates narrator within sociopolitical interests of late fourteenth-century court culture; narrator's individualism at odds with maiden's idealization of Catholic communal values.]

Andrew, Malcolm. "Theories of Authorship." In Brewer and Gibson. Pp. 23-33. [Thorough review of theories of authorship.]

Arthur, Ross G. "The Day of Judgment is Now: A Johannine Pattern in the Middle English Pearl." American Benedictine Review 38 (1987), 227-42. [Pearl in relation to medieval sign theory.]

Astell, Ann W. The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990. [Maiden as Anima, or the Bernardine trope of mystical brideship. Male protagonist must encompass feminine principle within himself.]

Barr, Helen. "Pearl - or 'The Jeweller's Tale.'" Medium Ævum 69 (2000), 59-79. [Pearls and gems in late fourteenth-century aristocratic culture; poem's "mercantile consciousness" (61) and concerns with social order.]

Bennett, Michael. "The Court of Richard II and the Promotion of Literature." In Chaucer's England: Literature in Historical Context. Ed. Barbara Hanawalt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. Pp. 3-20. [Richard II's Cheshire connections and literary patronage.]

---. "The Historical Background." In Brewer and Gibson. Pp. 71-90. [Locates poems of Cotton Nero A.x. within court circle of Richard II; Cheshire connections.]

Bishop, Ian. Pearl in Its Setting: A Critical Study of the Structure and Meaning of the Middle English Poem. Oxford: Blackwell, 1968. [Genre, especially allegory; idea of innocence; number symbolism.]

---. "Relatives at the Court of Heaven: Contrasted Treatments of an Idea in Piers Plowman and Pearl." In Medieval Literature and Antiquities: Studies in Honor of Basil Cottle. Ed. Myra Stokes and T. L. Burton. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987. Pp. 111-18. [Legal and heavenly courts and advantages of having relatives at both.]

Blanch, Robert J., ed. Sir Gawain and Pearl: Critical Essays. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1966. [Collection of essays.]

Blanch, Robert J., Miriam Youngerman Miller, and Julian N. Wasserman, eds. Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives of the Pearl-Poet. Troy, NY: Whitson Press, 1991. [Collection of essays.]

Blanch, Robert J., and Julian N. Wasserman. From Pearl to Gawain: Forme to Fynisment. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1995. [Thematic study from standpoint of provi-dential history; focus on miracles, language, role of narrator, covenants, iconography of the hand.]

Blenkner, Louis, O. S. B. "The Theological Structure of Pearl." Traditio 24 (1968), 43-75. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 220-71. [Reading of poem according to itineraries of mystical ascent, especially Hugh of St. Victor and Bonaventure.]

Bogdanos, Theodore. Pearl, Image of the Ineffable: A Study in Medieval Poetic Symbolism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983. [Medieval symbolism and sign theory - e.g., Pseudo-Dionysius, Augustine, Aquinas, Bonaventure.]

Borroff, Marie. "Pearl's 'Maynful Mone': Crux, Simile, and Structure." In Acts of Interpretation: The Text in its Contexts, 700-1600. Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature in Honor of E. Talbot Donaldson. Ed. Mary J. Carruthers and Elizabeth D. Kirk. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1982. Pp. 159-72. [Moon as example of roundness; poem's contrasting linear and circular modes.]

Bowers, John. "Pearl in Its Royal Setting: Ricardian Poetry Revisited." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 17 (1995), 111-55. [Reading of Pearl in relation to Richard II's court; argues poem is consistently royalist, and imagery of poem reiterates Richard's regalian themes and images.]

---. "The Politics of Pearl." Exemplaria 7 (1995), 419-41. [Parable of vineyard as exemplary of late fourteenth-century social concerns, especially unruly labor.]

---. The Politics of Pearl: Court Poetry in The Age of Richard II. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001.

Brewer, Derek, and Jonathan Gibson, eds. A Companion to the Gawain-Poet. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1997. [Indispensable collection of essays.]

Bridges, Margaret. "The Sense of an Ending: The Case of the Dream-Vision." Dutch Quarterly Review 14 (1984), 81-94. [Ending of poem in failed closure and textual indeterminacy.]

Bullon-Fernandez, Maria. "By3onde þe Water: Courtly and Religious Desire in Pearl." Studies in Philology 91 (1994), 35-49. [Contrasts between religious and courtly desire; poetic play of erotic desire violates both categories.]

Cherniss, Michael. Boethian Apocalypse: Studies in Middle English Vision Poetry. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1987. Pp. 151-68. [Pearl as Boethian vision.]

Clopper, Lawrence, "Pearl and the Consolation of Scripture." Viator 23 (1991), 231-45. [Poem as progressive meditative itinerary based on Augustine.]

Conley, John, ed. The Middle English Pearl: Critical Essays. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955. [Collection of essays.]

Cox, Catherine S. "Pearl's 'Precios Pere': Gender, Language, and Difference." Chaucer Review 32.4 (1998), 377-90. [Gender binaries inform poem's poetics and drive its formations of transgressive desire, with feminine representing the plural, carnal, and literal.]

Davenport, W. A. The Art of the Gawain-Poet. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1978. [Pearl chapter gives critical reading of development of narrator and of contrasts between literal and allegorical modes.]

Despres, Denise. "Ghostly Sights": Visual Meditation in Late-Medieval Literature. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1989. [Pearl addresses Christian conversion and specifically "penitential practice of visual meditation" (p. 91).]

Donkin, R. A. Beyond Price: Pearls and Pearl Fishing: Origins to the Age of Discovery. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1998. ["Pearls in the Medieval World," pp. 250-75, discusses medieval views on natural history of pearls; harvesting and international trade of pearls in Middle Ages.]

Donner, Morton. "Word Play and Word Form in Pearl." Chaucer Review 24 (1989), 166-82. [Variation in morphological form of link words as important component of poem's lexical play.]

Duggan, Hoyt N. "Libertine Scribes and Maidenly Editors: Meditations on Textual Criticism and Metrics." In English Historical Metrics. Ed. C. B. McCully and J. J. Anderson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. 219-37. [Contends scribe(s) consistently removed or added syllables, mismetering the poet's regularly iambic tetrameter line; see his similar argument in Brewer and Gibson, pp. 221-42.]

Earl, James W. "Saint Margaret and the Pearl Maiden." Modern Philology 70 (1972), 1-8. [Virgin martyr St. Margaret as source for the Pearl-maiden.]

Fein, Susannah Greer. "Twelve-Line Stanza Forms in Middle English and the Date of Pearl." Speculum 72 (1997), 367-97. [Contends Pearl uses a stanza intermediate between octet/ quatrain form and the ballade and that the stanza form dates the poem between 1375 and 1385.]

Field, Rosalind. "The Heavenly Jerusalem in Pearl." Modern Language Review 81 (1986), 7-17. [Poem's uses of and divergence from biblical Apocalypse text; image of wounded lamb in Apocalypse MSS.]

Finlayson, John. "Pearl: Landscape and Vision." Studies in Philology 71 (1974), 314-43. [Description of landscape as objective correlative to narrator's spiritual understanding.]

Fleming, John. "The Centuple Structure of the Pearl." In The Alliterative Tradition in the Fourteenth Century. Ed. Bernard S. Levy and Paul E. Szarmach. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981. Pp. 81-98. [101, the number of stanzas in poem, as number of spiritual consolation].

Gatta, John. "Transformation Symbolism and the Liturgy of the Mass in Pearl." Modern Philology 71 (1974), 243-56. [Reading of ritualistic allusions, with focus on sacramental interests.]

Ginsberg, Warren. "Place and Dialectic in Pearl and Dante's Paradiso." ELH 55 (1988), 731-53. [Pearl, like Dante's Paradiso, located in a spatial as well as discursive dialectic.]

Gross, Charlotte. "Courtly Language in Pearl." In Blanch, Miller, and Wasserman. Pp. 79-91. [Franciscan and French sources for courtly language and tensions between eroticism and spirituality.]

Hamilton, Marie P. "The Meaning of the Middle English Pearl." PMLA 70 (1955), 805-25. [Poem as Christian allegory; symbolism of garden, etc.]

Harwood, Britton J. "Pearl as Diptych." In Blanch, Miller, and Wasserman. Pp. 61-78. [Study of chiastic structure; influence of Gothic diptych.]

Hoffman, Stanton de Voren. "The Pearl: Notes for an Interpretation." Modern Philology 58 (1960), 73-80. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 86-102. [Pearl as elegy.]

Horgan, A. D. "Justice in the Pearl." Review of English Studies 32 (1981), 173-80. [Contrasts between social and Christian ideas of justice.]

Johnson, Wendell Stacey. "The Imagery and Diction of the Pearl: Toward an Interpretation." ELH 20 (1953), 161-80. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 27-49. [Central conflict between world and eternity mirrored in images of nature and of art.]

Kean, Patricia M. The Pearl: An Interpretation. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967. [Reading of images, with focus on contrast between earthly limitation and spiritual perfection.]

Lightbown, R. W. Medieval European Jewellery: With a Catalogue of the Collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992.

Luttrell, A. C. "Pearl: Symbolism in a Garden Setting." Neophilologus 49 (1965), 160-76. Rpt. in Blanch. Pp. 60-85. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 297-324. [Meanings of "erber" and "huyle"; conventions of medieval gardens.]

Lynch, Kathryn. The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988. [Locates dream vision in Pearl within late developments of genre.]

Macrae-Gibson, O. D. "Pearl: The Link-Words and the Thematic Structure." Neophilologus 52 (1968), 54-64. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 203-19. [Reading of link-terms.]

Mann, Jill. "Satisfaction and Payment in Middle English Literature." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 5 (1983), 17-48. ["Innoghe" in Pearl as "endlessly sufficient abundance" (p. 29).]

Marti, Kevin. Body, Heart, and Text in the Pearl-Poet. Queenston, Ontario: Mellen Press, 1991. [Pearl as replay of a Eucharistic drama, with spatial relations figured as both human body and Gothic cathedral.]

Muscatine, Charles. "The Pearl Poet: Style as Defense." In Poetry and Crisis in the Age of Chaucer. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972. Pp. 37-69. [Discussion of poet's detachment from contemporary history and poem's fusion of courtly and religious values.]

Nicholls, Jonathan. The Matter of Courtesy: Medieval Courtesy Books and the Gawain-Poet. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1985. [Courtesy books in the Middle Ages; short analysis of conflicting codes of courteous conduct in Pearl.]

Nolan, Barbara. The Gothic Visionary Perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977. [Pearl as visionary quest; vision and "visionary perspective" as central Gothic tropes.]

Olmert, Michael. "Game-Playing, Moral Purpose, and the Structure of Pearl." Chaucer Review 21 (1987), 383-403. [Pearl and language of games; influence of medieval board games.]

Osberg, Richard. "The Prosody of Middle English Pearl and the Alliterative Lyric Tradition." In English Historical Metrics. Ed. C. B. McCully and J. J. Anderson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. 150-74. [Derivation of poem from alliterative long line or from French metered poetry; argues that half-line composition of Pearl similar to alliterative Harley lyrics.]

Patch, Howard R. The Other World, According to Descriptions in Medieval Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950. [General study of topos of other world.]

Peck, Russell A., "Number as Cosmic Language." In Essays in the Numerical Criticism of Medieval Literature. Ed. Carolyn D. Eckhardt. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-64. [Boethian and Augustinian number symbolism, with application to Pearl (pp. 44-51, 58-64).]

Phillips, Heather. "The Eucharistic Allusions of Pearl." Medieval Studies 47 (1985), 474-86. [Liturgical references; unfolding of poem imitates process of the mass, with pearl as Eucharistic wafer.]

Prior, Sandra Pierson. The Fayre Formez of the Pearl Poet. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1996. [Biblical sources of imagery; Pearl chapter addresses lamb and enthroned God.]

Putter, Ad. Introduction to the Gawain-Poet. London: Longman, 1996. [Pearl's narrative evasiveness; poem's continental analogues.]

Reichardt, Paul F. " 'Several Illuminations, Coarsely Executed': The Illustrations of the Pearl Manuscript." Studies in Iconography 18 (1997), 119-142. [Revises critical deprecation of manuscript illustrations to argue that sequence possesses significant coherence of content and design.]

Rhodes, James. "The Dreamer Redeemed: Exile and the Kingdom in the Middle English Poem Pearl." Studies in the Age of Chaucer 16 (1994), 119-42. [Reading of debate section in terms of Bakhtinian dialogics, locating dreamer's voice in context of late medieval views on justification and salvation.]

Riddy, Felicity. "Jewels in Pearl." In Brewer and Gibson. Pp. 143-55. [Discussion of pearls, gems, jewelers; also patronage for art works.]

Robertson, D. W., Jr. "The 'Heresy' of The Pearl." Modern Language Notes 65 (1950), 152-55. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 291-96. [Exegetical explication of parable of vineyard and defense of its orthodoxy.]

---. "The Pearl as a Symbol." Modern Language Notes 65 (1950), 144-61. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 18-26. [Symbolism of pearl and reading according to four-fold allegorical method.]

Røstvig, Maren-Sofie. "Numerical Composition in Pearl: A Theory." English Studies 48 (1967), 326-32. [Study of number and number symbolism.]

Russell, Stephen J. The English Dream Vision: Anatomy of a Form. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988. Pp. 159-74. [Contextualizing of poem within dream-vision form; Pearl and instability of language.]

Shoaf, R. A. "Purgatorio and Pearl: Transgression and Transcendence." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 32 (1990), 152-68. [Compares endings of Purgatorio and Pearl, especially fording of Lethe and dreamer's attempt to cross the stream.]

Silar, Theodore I. "An Analysis of the Legal Sense of the Word fyn (finalis concordia) in Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Chaucer's Works, and Especially the Ending of Troilus and Criseyde." Chaucer Review 32 (1998), 282-309. [Poem's legal puns; review of scholarship on poem's use of legal language.]

Sklute, Larry M. "Expectation and Fulfillment in Pearl." Philological Quarterly 52 (1973), 663-79. [Narrative trajectory informed by reader's identification and frustration with narrator.]

Spearing, A. C. "Symbolic and Dramatic Development in Pearl." Modern Philology 60 (1962), 1-12. Rpt. in Blanch. Pp. 98-119. [Dramatic rather than allegorical reading of pearl, arguing that pearl transforms as narrator changes.]

---. The Gawain-Poet: A Critical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. [Important general study; Pearl chapter explores use of visual arts; dramatic progress of narrator; sources of topoi.]

Staley, Lynn. The Voice of the Gawain-Poet. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984. [Exegetically informed study of the four poems of Cotton Nero A.x.]

---. "Pearl and the Contingencies of Love and Piety." In Medieval Literature and Historical Inquiry. Ed. David Aers. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2000. Pp. 83-114. [Builds case for identifying narrator as Thomas of Woodstock and the Pearl-maiden as Isabel, his daughter, and for reading poem as commemorative elegy on her entrance into house of Minoresses in London. Examination of cultural patronage.]

Stanbury, Sarah. Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. [Techniques of focalized gaze in poems of Cotton Nero A.x.]

---. "Feminist Masterplots: The Gaze on the Body of Pearl's Dead Girl." In Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature. Ed. Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Pp. 96-115. [Gendered narrative gaze of poem in relation to feminist film theory.]

---. "The Body and the City in Pearl." Representations 47 (1994), 271-85. [Psychoanalytic, exegetical, and phenomenological frameworks for mourning as gendered narrative, centered around tropes of Jerusalem as mother.]

Stern, Milton R. "An Approach to The Pearl." JEGP 54 (1955), 684-92. Rpt. in Conley. Pp. 73-85. [Four-fold allegorical method; symbolism of gems and flowers.]

Thorpe, Douglas. A New Earth: The Labor of Language in Pearl, Herbert's Temple, and Blake's Jerusalem. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1991. Pp. 27-72. [New Testament parables as source for poem's metaphorical language and "sacramental poetics."]

Tomasch, Sylvia. "A Pearl Punnology." JEGP 88 (1989), 1-20. [Argues that grammar and language underwrite idea of interconnectedness; in-depth analysis of "spot."]

Turville-Petre, Thorlac. "The Pearl-Poet in His 'Fayre Regioun.'" In Essays on Ricardian Literature in Honour of J. A. Burrow. Ed. Alastair J. Minnis, Charlotte C. Morse, and Thorlac Turville-Petre. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. Pp. 276-94. [Debate over regional versus national poetry in late fourteenth century; Pearl non-metropolitan (non-London), but less regional than other Cotton Nero A.x. poems.]

Vance, Eugene. "Pearl: Love and the Poetics of Participation." In Poetics: Theory and Practice in Medieval English Literature. Ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 131-49. [Theology of participation in Pearl as well as in Grosseteste, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Plotinus.]

Vantuono, William. "Patience, Cleanness, Pearl, and Gawain: The Case for Common Authorship." Annuale Mediaevale 12 (1971), 37-69. [Evidence based on language, imagery, and structure.]

---. "John de Mascy of Sale and the Pearl Poems." Manuscripta 25 (1981), 77-88. [Controversy about authorship; evidence for John de Mascy's candidacy.]

Watkins, John. "'Sengeley in Synglere': Pearl and Late Medieval Individualism." Chaucer Yearbook 2 (1995), 117-36. [Text and late Ricardian social concerns; Parable of Vineyard and Statute of Laborers.]

Watson, Nicholas. "The Gawain-Poet as Vernacular Theologian." In Brewer and Gibson. Pp. 293-313. [Pearl and contemporary vernacular religious instruction; poem's economy of salvation as "aristocratized theology" privileging lay gentry over career religious.]

Watts, Ann Chalmers. "Pearl, Inexpressibility, and Poems of Human Loss." PMLA 99 (1984), 26-40. [Poem's reiterated motif of inexpressible loss as enduring literary topos.]

Whitaker, Muriel. "Pearl and some Illustrated Apocalypse Manuscripts." Viator 12 (1981), 183-201. [Well-illustrated examination of illuminated apocalypse manuscripts that may have served as sources for poem.]

Wilson, Edward. "Word Play and the Interpretation of Pearl." Medium Aevum 40 (1971), 116-34. [Poem's language and verbal echoes as literal rather than allegorical experience.]

Wimsatt, James I. Allegory and Mirror: Tradition and Structure in Middle English Literature. New York: Pegasus, 1970. [Pearl and Divine Comedy; literary analogues of Pearl-maiden in marguerite poems; Pearl and medieval allegory.]