The Politics of Pearl - Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II

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This is an entirely new and original reading of 'Pearl', placing the anonymous masterpiece in the context of the Cheshire coterie that flourished at the court of Richard II during the 1390s. The brilliance of its poetic construction has long been acknowledged, but here 'Pearl' is also shown to engage with the social, religious and political events of the late fourteenth century. The poem's defense of infant baptism is seen as countering Lollard criticism of the sacraments, its retelling of the Parable of the Vineyard as offering scriptural support to the aims of the Statute of Labourers. The poem's dazzling representation of aristocratic magnificence - jewelled crowns, gem-embroidered gowns, livery badges, civic processions, and monumental architecture - studied in this context, relates to the spectacular royal culture of one of England's most ambitious monarchs. The courtly elegy offered consolation after the death of Anne of Bohemia, while its vision of a royal child-bride figured in the intense national debate over the king's prospective marriage to the six-year-old Isabelle of France. Richard II's fall from power brought to an end not simply Cheshire privilege, but also a poetic tradition that produced some of the finest works of English literature, most notably 'Pearl' and 'Gawain and the Green Knight'. Professor JOHN BOWERS teaches at the Department of English at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.