“Three Approaches to Teaching the Middle English ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 7.44.11 AMMy pedagogical essay, “Three Approaches to Teaching  ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” now appears in The Once and Future Classroom (Spring 2016), Art. 6. Ejournal.


Pearl is an extraordinarily beautiful, fourteenth-century, dream vision poem. It is infinitely rewarding to teach, but notoriously difficult to do so. That is because the poem requires a level of literacy that college students do not always possess. In order to read Pearl, whether in Middle English or in a Modern English translation, students must be brave enough to encounter not only poetry, but medieval poetry; not only medieval poetry, but a specific dream vision poem densely packed with biblical and classical allusion; not only a dream vision with a literal meaning, but one with several layers of meaning: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. Although students may not come to the poem with the skills to understand the poem at first, by reading key precursor texts and studying Pearl in different contexts, students can learn to read Pearl, and in the process, learn how to become better readers overall.”

•How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?

•What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?

•How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically? What parable, fable, and fairy-tale motifs appear in the poem?

•Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?

To learn more about teaching Pearl,

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