Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems

Author: J. J. Anderson

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.

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