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REVIEWS and about the social contexts in which the play might have been performed. Avril Henry, finally, calls attention to the dramatist's use of unusual rhymes at important moments in The Castle of Perseverance, and concludes that it "is not certain whether rhyme-variation in the play re­ flects extreme sensitivity or ear in the medieval audience, or a craftsman's private delight, or devotional decoration for the glory of God, or simply flamboyant contemporary taste." All in all, this is a very appealing collection of essays, partly because it is so refreshingly old-fashioned, but even more so because it calls to our attention a wonderful array of lesser-known works that are very de­ serving of attention. A pair of the essays have as their principal concern two such works-The Simonie and "Ne mai no lewed lued"-and in most of the other discussions our attention is drawn to many intrigu­ ing but relatively obscure poems, such as "The Festivals of the Church" (Index 3415), which contains among other things a stanza on Christ's circumcision; or the lyric poem that warns worldly girls of their mor­ tality, found in MS Harley 116 (Index 2136); or Lydgate's Testament (Index 2464), a poem written late in his life in which he laments his mis­ spent youth. What this group of essays does, finally, is to remind us of the many notable Middle English poems that we rarely have a chance to consider and that we even more rarely have a chance to incorporate into our teaching. JOHN W. CONLEE College of William and Mary SANDRA PIERSON PRIOR. The Fayre Formez of the Pearl Poet. Medieval Texts and Studies, vol. 18. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1996. Pp. xiv, 222. $37.95. This is a fine book of formalist New Criticism of the four well-known Middle English poems-Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight-assigned to the anonymous Pearl-poet of the four­ teenth century. The major strength of the book is not only in what it says about these poems especially in the context of ecclesiastical iconog­ raphy, illustrating the adage utpicturapoesis, but also in what it does by 311 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER pointing the way for future scholars to pursue. The book provides in­ sights into the formal structures or "fair forms," both visual and verbal, of these poems. Most importantly, the book dwells on the apocalyptic content of the poems, which is its significant contribution to scholar­ ship. Prior sees the apocalyptic ideas of doom, death, punishment, and reward in various forms and shapes repeated and cleverly manipulated by the poet in these four works. Prior shows that there is a providential plan in the process of sacred history in the Bible. The increasing intensity of sin invites God's inter­ vention, which is characteristically a call to conversion. Punishment brings sinners to their senses and helps them reform their lives. Once sinners are converted, the historical process leading to damnation is re­ versed and postponed. On the other hand, good deeds and a virtuous life on earth are rewarded not only with the eternal enjoyment of the beatific vision of God but also with the anticipation of glory on earth in the grace of the sacraments, like the Eucharist. Existentially speak­ ing, grace is the beginning and foreshadowing of heavenly joy and glory on earth. Thus, Prior correctly points out two important facets of Biblical and English apocalyptic thought. First, the process of history is reversible in the sense that human history is not naively linear, with an absolute beginning and inevitable end in entropic fashion. Salvation history is, rather, circular in movement, with creation, destruction, and reconstruction or with creation, sin, punishment, and conversion; punishment is constantly thwarted by conversion. Second and consequently, the fact of conversion can and does almost interminably postpone the inevitable doom. Prior demonstrates how the poet develops this providential pattern of salvation history in an orderly fashion from the first poem to the last. Pearl is characterized by the apocalyptic vision of the end borrowed al­ most verbatim from John's Apocalypse. Cleanness is a return to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 311-314
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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