APPROACHES TO TEACHING THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PEARL edited by Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee

My co-edited volume, Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl, is now in print from the Modern Language Association.

Approaches-to-Teaching-the-Middle-English-Pearl-cover_bookstore_large

Abstract

The moving, richly allegorical poem Pearl was written in Middle English by the anonymous poet who likely also penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In it, a man in a garden, grieving the loss of a beloved pearl, dreams of the Pearl-Maiden, who appears across a stream. She teaches him the nature of innocence, God’s grace, meekness, and purity. Though granted a vision of the New Jerusalem by the Pearl-Maiden, the dreamer is pained to discover that he cannot cross the stream himself and join her in bliss—at least not yet. This extraordinary poem is a door into late medieval poetics and Catholic piety.

Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” introduces instructors to the many resources available for teaching the canonical yet challenging Pearl, including editions, translations, and scholarship on the poem as well as its historical context. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” offer instructors tools for introducing students to critical issues associated with the poem, such as its authorship, sources and analogues, structure and language, and relation to other works of its time. Contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches to outline ways of teaching Pearl in a variety of classroom contexts.

Table of Contents

 

  • With many thanks to my co-editor, our editors at the MLA, and all of our contributors!
  • To learn more about “Pearl,” see Medieval Pearl.
Advertisements

“Explaining the Placenta” by Jane Beal

cropped-cropped-cropped-Gilbertson_1-e1457541831757-1-1My poem, “Explaining the Placenta,” now appears in the anthology All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood, eds. Elise Gregory and Emily Gwinn (Spokane, WA: Sage Hill Press, 10 May 2017).

POEM:

This is the house your baby lived in
before she was born,
I say –

and I hold up the membranes
of amnion and chorion
(words like notes sung
by cherubim and seraphim)
to show the mother
who now is breastfeeding her newborn babe.

This shiny side was the baby’s side,
and the cord in the center
was connected to the center of her!

I turn the placenta over
in the bowl, and say:
This side was your side, attached
to the inside of the uterus,
and the blood that perfused it
brought life and food to your baby.

The mama knows this was part of her.
Now that she has seen it,
she will remember.
She has understood something about herself
and life when it is first beginning:
unseen, unheard, inside.

She says she will
bury it in the ground.
What will grow from it then?

Jane Beal

Also available in …
Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 43.

“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.

EXCERPTS: 

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,

please visit:

https://medievalpearl.wordpress.com/teaching/

“Reading in a Roundtable, Socratic Dialogue, and Other Strategies for Teaching SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT” by Jane Beal

GGK_94.jpgMy pedagogical essay, “Reading in a Roundtable, Socratic Dialogue, and Other Strategies for Teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” now appears in SMART: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching 23:2 (Fall 2016): 73-100.

Excerpt:

“The lai of Lanval thus shows the complex nature of medieval literary depictions of love in a courtly context as well as how very important chivalric courtesy really is in that context. Just as importantly, our discussion of Lanval introduces the character and reputation of Gawain, “the knight of courtesy,” who appears as Lanval’s friend in the romance and aids him in his difficulties. Therefore, students have a foundation upon which we can build as we discuss the following key questions about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in our roundtable:

  • What codes govern Gawain’s life, and how do they come into conflict in this poem?
  • What games are played in this poem, and how do they test Gawain’s character?
  • When Gawain makes each of his confessions in the poem (there are three), what level of self-awareness of his choices does he show, especially in relation to the codes governing his actions? What does he confess, what level of responsibility does he take for his actions, and why (and how much) does it matter within the world of the poem?
  • How might we, as readers, interpret the conclusion of this poem, and what might be its relevance for a medieval audience and for us?

These questions are made available to students so they are familiar with them and have reflected on them during their reading prior to coming to class.

In the remainder of this essay, I will give an overview of the contextual information I usually share with my students and the key insights I attempt to evoke from them in response to the questions about the poem. The categories for consideration include the following: (1) the codes of chivalry, courtly love, and Christianity; (2) gaming for glory—the beheading of the Green Knight; (3) Gawain’s identity revealed in the symbolism of his shield; (4) gaming for glory—the exchange of winnings; and 5) Gawain’s spiritual growth—the confessions to the priest, the Green Knight, and King Arthur’s court. My purpose in writing is to give ideas to other teachers who may wish to teach Sir Gawain and the Green Knight using roundtable discussion, Socratic dialogue and other pedagogical strategies. I have found that exploratory discussion, enriched by informal but informative lecture, becomes more meaningful when the world-views of students are compared to the world-views evidenced in medieval poetry. The students tend to learn much more than they expect, and sometimes their views are changed or subtly shifted.”