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01  MW5  CAC  14479  SCANLON   SC-102

Realism, Fantasy, Religion: The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript

This seminar will concentrate on one of the most remarkable poets of the later Middle Ages, the anonymous author of the four poems contained in a single manuscript known as the Pearl manuscript.  The best known of these is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the best Arthurian poems of the entire period.  They also include Cleanness, a meditation on purity, profanation and sexuality, drawing mainly on biblical stories, Patience, a re-telling of Jonah and the Whale, and Pearl, a dream vision.

These poems were not rediscovered until the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Modern readers have found them compelling because of their puzzling combination of clearly medieval features, such as their religious orientation, and those that seem modern, such as their interest in realism.  We will investigate this combination thoroughly, as well as the poet’s interest in the category of the fantastic, which is both medieval and modern.

Our discussions will draw on both modern and medieval perspectives.  In addition to modern critical treatments of realism and fantasy, we will also look at Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2015 novel, The Buried Giant, which is based on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  For medieval perspectives, we will look at the biblical texts the poet draws on and related poems in the tradition of medieval romance.  We will also spend some time on the linguistic and formal features of the poems.  Knowledge of Middle English, while helpful, is not required.

As this course is a seminar, the principal requirement will be a 15-20 pp. page paper.  Substantial class time will be given over to the development of individual topics and drafting and revising.  This instruction will be integrated into the more general discussion of the poetry.


Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

Poems of the “Pearl” Manuscript, ed. Andrew and Waldron


Informal class presentations

15-20 pp. paper, plus drafts

why english wide


 Undergraduate Students


Graduate Program in English


Statue of "Willie the Silent"