by Jane Beal
This book enhances our understanding of the exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision poem Pearl. Situating the study in the contexts of medieval literary criticism and contemporary genre theory, Beal argues that the poet intended Pearl to be read at four levels of meaning and in four corresponding genres: literally, an elegy; spiritually, an allegory; morally, a consolation; and anagogically, a revelation. The book addresses cruxes and scholarly debates about the poem’s genre and meaning, including key questions that have been unresolved in Pearl studies for over a century:
- What is the nature of the relationship between the Dreamer and the Maiden?
- What is the significance of allusions to Ovidian love stories and the use of liturgical time in the poem?
- How does avian symbolism, like that of the central symbol of the pearl, develop, transform, and add meaning throughout the dream vision?
- What is the nature of God portrayed in the poem, and how does the portrayal of the Maiden’s intimate relationship to God, her spiritual marriage to the Lamb, connect to the poet’s purpose in writing?
Noting that the poem is open to many interpretations, Beal also considers folktale genre patterns in Pearl, including those drawn from parable, fable, and fairy-tale. The conclusion considers Pearl in the light of modern psychological theories of grieving and trauma. This book makes a compelling case for re-reading Pearl and recognizing the poem’s signifying power. Given the ongoing possibility of new interpretations, it will appeal to those who specialize in Pearl as well as scholars of Middle English, Medieval Literature, Genre Theory, and Literature and Religion.