Gascoigne, George. The Complete Works of George Gascoigne.
2 vols. Edited by J. W. Cunliffe. 1907. Reprint, New
York: Greenwood Press, 1969. Johnson, Ronald. George Gascoigne. New York: Twayne,
Robert E. Kibler gawain-POET (pearl-POET) (fl. ca. 1390)
Scholars assign the name "the Gawain-poet" (sometimes "the Pearl-poet") to the anonymous author of four poems in the manuscript Cotton Nero A.x now housed at the British Library: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Earlier scholars attributed the poem St. Erkenwald, found in a different manuscript, to this author, but that remains disputed.
Since the Cotton Nero poems give no firm indication of their author's identity, scholars have explored the poet's background through careful attention to the poems and the manuscript. Based on the date of the manuscript and on references within the poems, it appears that the Gawain-poet was writing around the last decade of the 14th century. Additionally, linguists have identified the dialect of the poems as English Northwest Midlands, around Cheshire. Highly learned references indicate a thorough grounding in biblical studies and familiarity with Latin literature, suggesting the poet may have been a clerk (member of a minor order). A focus on genteel manners and a familiarity with aristocratic traditions and values in the poems suggest that the poet may have been a retainer in a noble household. These characteristics and the self-presentation of the poems' speakers evince a male author, but there is no proof of this.
The intertwining of Christian themes with chivalry and courtly values is a key characteristic of the Gawain-poet's work. The poems imagine God as the ideal form of a king or aristocratic lord, and Gawain's protagonist struggles with the frailty of the flesh as well as his knightly quest. The poems explore the contrast between the perfection demanded by chivalric-Chris-tian virtue and the limits of human frailty—sympathet-ically, through the befuddled speaker of Pearl or the reluctant Jonah in Patience, or damningly, through the negative examples in Cleanness. Symbols of perfection and purity recur throughout the poems, two key examples being the immaculate pearl and the pentangle symbolizing virtue on Gawain's shield. Critics have also noted the poems' interest in exploring sexual mores—for example, the nuanced treatment of dangerous flirtation and potentially erotic male bonding in Gawain. Cleanness includes both exuberant praise of heterosexual relationships and condemnation of malemale homosexual intercourse.
Three of the poems are written in alliterative verse (and Pearl, though not in alliterative verse, shows strong alliterative elements). The combination of the poet's Northwest Midlands dialect and use of alliteraTIoN might seem to suggest a provincial, old-fashioned writer; however, it is only the subsequent triumph of London English and of stressed-syllable rhyming verse that gives us this impression of the Gawain-poet's isolation, as the mid- to late 14 th century saw an outburst of verse sometimes referred to as the alliterative revival, and such verse was popular in gentry households. Moreover, close connections existed between the metropolitan centers of London and Westminster and the poet's likely homeland of Cheshire during this period, primarily because King Richard II had close connections there.
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