Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The fractured narrative of the dream vision in the Gawain poet’s “Pearl” College

A dream, as we conceive of it in modern thought, is considerably different to the dreams which featured in Middle English dream vision poetry. Where today we might generally think of one’s dreams as an abstract, introspective reflection of individual and personal psychology, the dream in the Gawain-poet’s Pearl functions differently. As A.C Spearing explains, ‘For the Middle Ages, the explicitly visionary element in Scripture must have provided a major justification for a literature of dreams and visions’, implying that the dream is not just a reflection of one man’s psychology, but that the dream, like the Bible, offers lessons or understanding to its readers. Furthermore, the dream realm into which the dreamer enters is totally unfamiliar and strange to him, and the resulting narrative is an unstable one which he cobbles together in order to try and understand his experience himself. If we look upon ‘narrative’ as the way in which experiences are made sense of in literature and communicated to readers, I will argue that the readers of Pearl are not required to forego narrative completely, but instead are asked to trust in one that is spontaneous and perhaps unreliable, as they enter the unfamiliar dream otherworld alongside...

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