Gawain Poet: Overview

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Author: Derek Pearsall
Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,032 words

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The Gawain Poet is the name usually given to the unknown author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, by implication, of the three other poems, Pearl, Patience and Cleanness (sometimes called Purity), which appear with Gawain in the unique manuscript, British Library MS Cotton Nero A.X. The attribution of all four poems to the same poet (also called the Pearl Poet, Pearl being the first poem in the manuscript) is now generally accepted, if only for the sake of convenience. The strongest arguments for common authority are the striking parallels of theme, imagery, and style between the four poems. St. Erkenwald, which survives in a different manuscript, has often been attached to the group as a fifth poem from the same pen, but the evidence is not strong.

The four poems of Cotton Nero A.x. are the crowning achievement of the ``Alliterative Revival'' of the 14th century. This resurgence of writing in the traditional unrhymed alliterative measure has never been satisfactorily explained as a historical phenomenon, but it can certainly be associated primarily with the west and northwest of England, and perhaps with the noble households of that region. The language of the Gawain-poems has been localised in the region where Lancashire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire meet, and the composition of the poems has been ascribed to the last quarter of the 14th century. Patience and Cleanness are in the traditional form of the alliterative long line, while in Gawain the lines are grouped into ``stanzas'' of variable length (101 in all) by the insertion of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420003216