Richard Morris (essay date 1869)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: A preface to Early English Alliterative Poems. Oxford University Press, 1965, pp. ix-xx.

[In the following excerpt, Morris considers Pearl to be a valuable resource for understanding early English and the art and tradition of the poet.]

[In "The Pearl"], the author evidently gives expression to his own sorrow for the loss of his infant child, a girl of two years old, whom he describes as a

Perle pleasaunte to prynces paye
Pearl pleasant to princes' pleasure,
To clanly clos in golde so clere
Most neatly set in gold so clear.

Of her death he says:


(The entire section is 970 words.)

Carleton F. Brown (essay date 1904)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Author of The Pearl, Considered in the Light of His Theological Opinions," in PMLA, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1904, pp. 115-45.

[In the following essay, Brown describes the Pearl author as an ecclesiastic who, two hundred years prior to the Protestant Reformation, created a three-hundred-line argument equating the grace received in heaven by a baptized infant with that received by a lifelong active Christian.]

Among the English poets of the fourteenth century the one who deserves the seat next to Chaucer is the anonymous author of the four poems: Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight, The Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience....

(The entire section is 6156 words.)

Israel Gollancz (essay date 1921)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Pearl: An English Poem of the XIVth Century, Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1966, pp. xi-lii.

[In the following essay, Gollancz discusses the Pearl manuscript, its contents and date, the poem's place in English literature; the plan of the poem, its genre, and its relationship to its main sources; its imagery, meter, diction, and style; and the possible identity of its author.]

'Pearl' in the Lineage of English Poetry.—While Chaucer was still learning from Guillaume de Machault and his followers the cult of the Marguerite, flower of flowers, as symbol of womanhood, a contemporary English poet had already found inspiration in...

(The entire section is 11522 words.)

René Wellek (essay date 1933)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Pearl: An Interpretation of the Middle English Poem," in Sir Gawain and Pearl: Critical Essays, Indiana University Press, 1966, pp. 3-36.

[In the following essay, Wellek asserts that Pearl is a dream vision that uses allegory to present Pearl as the object of divine grace.]

A lucky chance has preserved to us two English poems of the fourteenth century which rank not far below the best we have from Chaucer's master hand. MS Cotton Nero A. X. (now A. X. 4) in the British Museum contains the only known text of both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Pearl. Since Richard Morris's first edition in 1864 the Pearl...

(The entire section is 12924 words.)

Charles Moorman (essay date 1955)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Role of the Narrator in Pearl," in The Middle English Pearl: Critical Essays, University of Notre Dame Press, 1970, pp. 103-21.

[In the following essay, Moorman defines the poem's real subject as the narrator's mind: the stages of his conversation with the Pearl maiden represent stages leading to his personal redemption and acceptance of his situation.]

It is decidedly not the intention of this paper to introduce a radically new interpretation of the Middle English Pearl, a poem which has already been done almost to death by its interpreters. The criticism already devoted to the poem contains judgments as to its meaning and purpose so...

(The entire section is 6090 words.)

Dorothy Everett (essay date 1955)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Alliterative Revival," in Essays on Middle English, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1955, pp. 46-96.

[In this excerpt, Everett argues that the so-called alliterative revival was actually part of a continuous tradition and that Pearl can be compared to Milton's Lycidas and Dante's Divine Comedy.]

The Alliterative Morte Arthure and other poems

Nothing that has survived from the early Middle English period prepares us for that later outpouring of alliterative poetry which has conveniently, though probably inaccurately, been termed the 'alliterative revival'. Suddenly (so it appears to us), in the middle of the...

(The entire section is 5760 words.)

John Gardner (essay date 1965)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Conventions and Traditions in the Poems," in The Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet, The University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 13-36.

[In the following essay, Gardner places Pearl in the tradition of alliterative courtly verse and comments on the poet's skillful use of the elaborate ornamentation created with patterns of rhyme, alliteration, numeric symbolism, and the important symbolism emanating from the four-level system of biblical exegesis.]

In their selection of poetic forms, Chaucer and the Gawain-poet differ. Chaucer's parson disparages the ancient English "rum, ram, ruf" school of poetry, and whether or not Chaucer agrees with his...

(The entire section is 9707 words.)

Ian Bishop (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction "The Maiden as an Innocent" and "The Priviledges of the Newly Baptized," in Pearl in Its Setting: A Critical Study of the Structure and Meaning of the Middle English Poem, Basil Blackwell, 1968, pp. 101-03, 104-112, 113-21.

[In the following essay, Bishop finds that the liturgy in use during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries provides important information for understanding the poet's characterization of the Pearl maiden..]


In order to represent the apparition of the child's beatified soul, the author has to supply her with a visionary body of appropriate stature and appearance; with suitable clothing; and...

(The entire section is 8569 words.)

A. C. Spearing (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pearl," in The Gawain-Poet: A Critical Study, Cambridge at the University Press, 1970, pp. 96-170.

[In the following excerpt, Spearing describes Pearl as an extended dramatic narrative in which the literal-minded dreamer interacts with the celestial maiden in a way that reveals the difference between earthly human relationships and spiritual relationships.]

… In the fourteenth century the pearl could symbolize any of a very wide range of things; if a coherence is established within this variety, it is established by the poem itself, not by its sources and analogues.1 In some ways it may be that we can better take Pearl as a...

(The entire section is 13618 words.)

Anne Howland Schotter (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Vernacular Style and the Word of God: The Incarnational Art of Pearl," in Ineffability: Naming the Unnamable from Dante to Beckett. AMS Press, 1984, pp. 23-34.

[In the following essay, Schotter considers the theme of Pearl to be the inadequacy of both images and human language to convey the idea of the Divine.]

Any Christian visionary writer must confront the problem of how to convey the Divine in human terms. Throughout history theologians have spoken of two ways, the positive, which proposes analogies for God, and the negative, which denies that any analogies are valid. The two ways tend to work in a dialectical manner, the latter continually warning...

(The entire section is 5799 words.)

Lynn Staley (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Pearl Dreamer and the Eleventh Hour," in Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives of the Pearl-Poet, The Whitston Publishing Company, 1991, pp. 3-15.

[In the following essay, Staley argues that because the poet placed the dreamer's experience in the month of harvest, the dreamer recognizes the importance of time as a catalyst for his spiritual transformation.]

In this essay I would like to examine the poet's handling of time in Pearl. His awareness, not only of various ways of considering time, but of the potential artistic uses of a temporal cycle or cycles, is apparent throughout his works. In Sir Gawain, he juxtaposes Camelot with...

(The entire section is 6159 words.)

Sarah Stanbury (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Gazing Toward Jerusalem: Space and Perception in Pearl" in Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 12-41.

[In the following essay, Stanbury describes the poem as an allegorical fiction and compares it to the pilgrimage-narrative genre of travel literature and to the tradition of medieval illustrated Apocalypses.]

Pearl is a story of a journey to Jerusalem. Like popular narrative accounts of actual pilgrimages—526 accounts of journeys to Jerusalem have survived from the period 1100 to 1500—Pearl's itinerary culminates in a sacred city and also takes its...

(The entire section is 12057 words.)

Jim Rhodes (essay date 1994)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Dreamer Redeemed: Exile and the Kingdom in the Middle English Pearl," in Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Vol. 16, 1994, pp. 119-42.

[In the following essay, Rhodes argues that instead of regarding the dreamer as a mere foil to the Maiden, the dreamer should be viewed as her equal and the poem should be seen as accurately reflecting the theological debate taking place in the fourteenth century.]

One might maintain, not too paradoxically, that every medieval poetic form (on whatever level one may define it) tends toward double meaning: and I don't mean the doubling deciphered by an allegoristic reading but, superimposing or...

(The entire section is 10559 words.)