restricted access The Dreamer Redeemed: Exile and the Kingdom in the Middle English Pearl
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The Dreamer Redeemed: Exile and the Kingdom in the Middle English Pearl Jim Rhodes Southern Connecticut State University One might maintain, not too paradoxically, that every medieval poetic form (on whatever level one may define it) tends toward double meaning: and I don't mean the doubling deciphered by an allegoristic reading but, superimposing or com­ plexifying its effects, a perpetual sic et non, yes and no, obverse/reverse. Every meaning, in the last analysis, would present itself as enigmatic, the enigma being resolved into simultaneous and contradictory propositions, one of which always more or less parodies the other.1 ith the possible exception of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all of the works of the Pearl poet have been regarded as didactic or imitative of the form and content of a medieval sermon. Of these poems Pearl has been portrayed as the most controlled and sustained example of his homiletic art. Thus for one reader Pearl is about the drama of faith or the "tension of belief" which lies at the core of medieval spirituality; for another it is about the fallen soul and its salvation; for most others it is about the education ofthe Dreamer, his progress under the guidance ofthe Maiden toward learning to shift his focus from earthly to heavenly love, from the Maiden to the love of Christ.2 What these readings share is a 1 Paul Zumthor, Speaking ofthe Middle Ages, trans. Sarah White (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), p. 63. 2 See Theodore Bogdanos, Pearl: Image of the Ineffable: A Study in Medieval Poetic Symbolism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983); A. C. Spearing, The Gawain-Poet: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); Ian Bishop, Pearl in Its Setting: A Critical Study ofthe Structure and Meaning ofthe Middle English Poem 119 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER confidence in the authority ofthe Pearl Maiden's discourse, particularly her interpretation ofthe Vineyard parable as prologue to her formal instruction ofthe Dreamer in the traditional theology ofsalvation and penance. At the same time, these readings treat the Dreamer as a sympathetic but some­ what naive figure who does not understand the full meaning of Christian doctrine. Recently readers have begun to position the Dreamer more centrally in the narrative and to award him a more active role in the experience of his spiritual education. David Aers, for example, after acknowledging the psy­ chological complexity and theological sophistication of the Dreamer, de­ tects a degree ofLollard individualism and interpretiveness in his response to the vineyard parable.3 Aers argues that the Dreamer's self-absorption has prevented him from gaining self-transcendence and from renewing his bonds with the human community, but that the dream and the encounter with the Maiden give the Dreamer the "time, space, and provocation to change, to redirect his being from identification with the dead person, to redirect his love."4 In the symbolic structure of the poem the Dreamer moves from the solitary "I" at the beginning ofthe poem to the communal "we" at the close. This approach goes a long way toward redeeming the Dreamer, but it still makes him too dependent on the Maiden for his personal renewal, and it allows the Maiden's theological argument or position to stand uncon­ tested. The aim ofthis article is to show that the Dreamer's voice counts as much as the Maiden's in the theological and social discourse of the poem and that he shares the theological and moral center of the poem with her. Accordingly, this article proposes that we read Pearl in terms ofBakhtinian dialogic instead of as Boethian dialogue, the traditional approach to the poem. In Boethian dialogue the interlocutor holds unquestioned superior­ ity over the correspondent, whereas in Bakhtinian dialogic no such superi­ ority is apportioned. For Bakhtin, both sides have equal authority, even when the dialogue takes place within only one parry, usually as a struggle or interplay between two categories: the authoritative word (religious, po- (Oxford: Blackwell, 1968); Lynn Staley Johnson, The Voice of the Gawain-Poet (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1984). Other texts that influenced my reading ofthe poem are W. A. Davenport, The Art of the...