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  • Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl ed. by Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee
  • Jeffery Moser
Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee, eds. Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl. New York: Modern Language Association, 2018. 262 p.

Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee teamed up with eighteen other scholars to produce a rich volume of twenty-one essays on approaches to teaching and emphasizing the canonical poetic significance and sustaining historical relevance of the medieval English poem Pearl. Beal is an associate professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California, and Busbee is professor and chair of the department of English at Samford University in Alabama, where he teaches medieval literature and writing.

The primary aim of Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl is to anchor the Christian-based long poem within the context and literary culture of late-fourteenth century Europe, while also focusing on the challenges and rewards of teaching Pearl in today's college classroom, where a text's modern relevance to students is nearly an absolute. Faculty require effective pedagogical delivery to advance appropriate narrative interpretation skills and deeper acumen of critical writing among young scholars.

Therefore, Beal and Busbee's text is organized into two essential sections that include essays by medievalists and non-medievalists who hold valuable experience in teaching Pearl and other similar thematic and stylistic works composed by an anonymous author, who, most scholars agree, is the same poet that wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Hence, the select essayists accent ways that readings and methodologies allow students to connect to the Pearl-poet and Gawain-poet through the unknown poet's other attributed works such as Patience and Cleanness; through the poetry of Chaucer, Gower, and Langland; in the poetic traditions set down by Europeans such as Dante and Boccaccio; and with a review of the narrative manners, verse language and verse structures established by a myriad of classical poets overtime--from Horace, Plato, Chaucer, and Margery Kempe to T. S. Eliot and J. R. R. Tolkien. [End Page 185]

Specifically, nineteen essays in part 2, "Approaches," address specific contexts and strategies for teaching Pearl. Part 1, "Materials," introduces instructors to a treasure of resources and references for contemporary classroom use. Thus, together with Jane Beal and Mark Busbee's nineteen-page introduction, this volume provides a fresh overview and robust assembly of foundational resources that are available for teaching the challenging poem, including editions, translations, and scholarship in print and on the Internet about the poem as well as Pearl's historical context. Most helpful is that part 2 offers instructors tools for introducing students to critical issues associated with the poem, such as its authorship and plot, sources and analogues, structure and meaning, symbolism, language, and relation to other works of its time.

In addition, the contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches, and their essays outline ways of teaching Pearl in a variety of classroom contexts, including performance. Notably, Elizabeth Harper's essay reinforces why Pearl is a useful gateway into Middle English poetry as an upper-division survey course. Harper substantiates her claim by telling how reading and responding to the poem has enabled her students to "understand the culture of medieval England as sharing common experiences and existential questions with our own" and to learn about historical and cultural contexts (148). On a broader scale, Harper's comparative approaches illustrate how the teaching of Pearl can allow students to understand themselves as culturally situated, and to see old texts not just as objects of analysis, but as works that bridge "the gulf of time, geographic distance, and cultural change" (148).

Because the essays highlight the historical approaches and contexts of Pearl, along with literary and theoretical approaches, comparative approaches, and specific classroom contexts, the moving, palatially allegorical Pearl is presented as an extraordinary middle English narrative poem that can serve as an invaluable door into the teaching of late medieval poetics, piety, paradoxes, divine and human will, cultural sameness and difference, social classes, human loss, games/strategy, and gendered anxieties – plus a multitude of other topics.

The well-organized volume concludes with an appendix of twenty-six study...


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