“Ryзtwysly quo con rede” parables and judgment in the Pearl-manuscript.


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The poems of the Pearl-manuscript, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, are illuminated by a consideration of the three Gospel parables they contain, as well as by a consideration of the hermeneutics of parables. A selective survey of medieval and modern accounts of the hermeneutics of parables shows that the Pearl-manuscript shares with parables a self-reflective concern with the difficulties of interpretation, a pedagogical method of disjunction and paradox, an eschatological emphasis on the advent of the Kingdom of God, and a robust sense of the theological and pedagogical possibilities of multivalent images. A study of the poems anchored by an in-depth consideration of the parables of Jesus which appear in Cleanness and Pearl reveals a range of perspectives on the capacity of language to communicate insight and of a variety of individual interpreters to judge well. The synthesis of this variety of perspectives offers a nuanced account of ‘righteous’ interpretation. Cleanness’ parable of “The Wedding Feast” presents a radically skeptical perspective on the human capacity to interpret, particularly with respect to the ineffable. This perspective is repeated in a number of images of failed interpreters throughout the manuscript. Pearl’s “The Pearl of Great Price” and “The Workers in the Vineyard,” however, offer a corrective to “The Wedding Feast’s” account, suggesting that an interpreter’s success depends upon the habit of righteousness and the willingness to understand. This suggestion, too, reverberates through the manuscript. Additionally, “The Workers in the Vineyard” shows the pedagogical capacity of paradox. An interpretation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight through the lens of the manuscript’s parabolic strategies and storylines shows that interpretation in the face of the unknown requires, not passive acceptance of truths not understood, but active searching after knowledge. This paradigm of courtesy, consisting in a delicate balance of deference, curiosity, and participation, is illustrated in Pearl’s account of heavenly courtesy, as it is in Pearl’s use of multivalence, especially in the parable of “The Pearl of Great Price.”



Pearl. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Cleanness. Patience. Parables. Interpretation. Hermeneutics. Exegesis. Paradox. Multivalence. The workers in the vineyard. The pearl of great price.