This book is an open-ended critical account of the Gawain-poems. The four poems of MS Cotton Nero A.x, Art. 3 are untitled in the manuscript, but titled by modern editors, in manuscript order: Pearl, Cleanness (or Purity), Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poems testify that he was cultivated, with an appreciation of the finer points of chivalric life, and also deeply religious - a cleric, no doubt, given his biblical knowledge, his interest in Christian doctrine, and his understanding of sermon style. Pearl is a religious dream-vision in which the dream is largely taken up by dialogue between the narrator or dreamer, as a figure in his dream, and a woman who is a fount of divine wisdom. Cleanness combines discussion of a religious virtue with retelling of stories from the Bible. Its three main stories are from the Old Testament, and they centre on Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Belshazzar's feast. Patience is a poem that combines discussion of a moral quality with biblical narrative, in the case of Patience, one narrative only, the story of Jonah.Sir Gawain is a record of, and tribute to, the beauties and pleasures of chivalric life. Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience suggest that for the poet national events may have merged with events in his own life to challenge his faith. With Gawain too it is possible that the public and the personal intermingle to shake his faith in chivalry and the feudal model of social order.
, though a step down from Chaucer’s, still deserves to be called ‘courtly’ in the sense of being interested in courtly matters. The discourse of chivalry and courtesy is central in Gawain , important in Pearl , and significant in Cleanness and Patience , and no doubt this interest reflects audience interests and aspirations. But the poems lead their audiences to consider courtly values critically. 6 Langland’s Piers Plowman , the great religious poem written at about the same time as the Gawain -poems over the last four decades of the fourteenth century, and a
between the human and the divine as a prominent theme in Pearl. See Anderson, Language and Imagination in the Gawain Poems (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), p. 77. 10 Augustine, ‘Against Two Letters of the Pelagians’, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 5: Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings, revised trans. Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprinted 1980), p. 397. Augustine also discusses the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard in ‘On Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism’ and ‘On
’s mercy (lines 399–404), and the episode ends with a clear narratorial statement to the effect that the people all turned to God in penance and God did indeed forgive them (lines 405–8). The length of the passage itself gives it weight and significance. The other three Gawain -poems are interested in penance too. Pearl assigns penance its place in the whole scheme of Christian doctrine, Cleanness presents it as more of a theoretical than an actual possibility, and Gawain considers it in relation to chivalry. But it comes into its own in Patience , where it is
, 1994), p. 53. 69 J. J. Anderson, Language and Imagination in the Gawain Poems (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), pp. 83–6. See also Derek Brewer’s assertion that both the Gospel parable and the poet’s rendition issue an unambiguous moral lesson: he claims that ‘neither the poet nor the Gospel writers are troubled by the problem of how 212 The politics of Middle English parables a man compelled to come unexpectedly to a feast can be blamed for not having the appropriate clothes’. See ‘Feasts’, in Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (eds), A Companion to
violent episodes he finds in his sources. They are inhuman in scale, content, and the way in which they are told, with few humanising touches 9 of the kind found in Patience . Indeed there is little in the poem to engage the reader on the human level. In contrast to the other three Gawain -poems there is no central figure and no one who is human enough for the reader to empathise with. Instead there is an unremitting focus on the transcendental, on God, heaven, and epic events, so that, except for special effects, ordinary life is excluded. The idea that sin is a
lives. The vision of the heavenly city follows. The dreamer’s speeches are normally one stanza long, but the ‘plus one’ requests are shorter (3–4 lines), and two longer three-stanza speeches, of different character from the others, separate the three parts. The maiden replies to all of the dreamer’s questions/requests as he puts them, in speeches of variable length, the longest of thirteen stanzas. 5 Quotations from the Gawain-poems are from J. J. Anderson, ed., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience (London: Dent, 1996 ). 6 The