The Politics of Pearl

November 2000
7 black and white illustrations
264 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9780859915991
Format: Hardback
BISAC LIT004120, POE008000, HIS015000

The Politics of Pearl

Court Poetry in the Age of Richard II

John M. Bowers

Close analysis of the poem reveals extensive allusion to contemporary social, religious and political events.
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.


Restores this literary gem to its contemporary historical setting, successfully locating it in and among the religious and cultural debates of the Ricardian court in the mid-1390s...has done the poet and his readers a considerable service in at last affording Pearl the kind of detailed and sustained historicist scrutiny that has previously been afforded only to its more overtly worldly companion-pieces. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW
Reaches some markedly original conclusions... His essential argument is that Pearl should be read in the cultural and political context of the court of Richard II in the 1390s - and, specifically, that it constitutes an elegy for Richard's first wife, Anne, who died in 1394... The material on court culture is always interesting and lively, and often illuminating or challenging. It is for this material that Bowers's book will be valued and remembered - as an original, distinctive and significant study of Pearl. REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES
An important critical intervention into received ways of reading Pearl. MEDIUM AEVUM
A first-rate exposition of Pearl's immersion in Ricardian court culture [and more]. SPECULUM