Pearl: Rhetorical Analysis--who's speaking and who's listening; who interrupts and who answers; who says, sees, knows, instructs, objects


          Because Pearl is a dialogue as well as a dream vision, it can profitably be analyzed in terms of its rhetoric.  The speakers are trying to persuade each other, and in so doing, trade places several times over the 101 stanzas of the poem.  Sometimes, the speaker/hearer roles even change in mid-stanza.  At other times, speakers' discourse "enjambs" (French, "legs on") over stanza boundaries, or even over the divisions between stanza groups.  All of those events are noteworthy and can be used to analyze the persuasive style and content of each speaker.  These are just a few of the rhetorical shifts of speaker/hearer and speakers' control of the discourse, mostly from the second 10 stanza groups.  For convenience, I will abbreviate "Dreamer" as "D" and "Pearl-maiden" as "P."  This same sort of rhetorical analysis will also work to expose authority relationships in Chaucer's dream visions.

Turning points in the poem for D:

his admissions that he is mortal, literally "dust" ("mol") occur at lines 382 and 905.  Immediately following those humbling speeches, P rewards him with bursts of vision.

his claims that he knows what he is seeing (implied "better than P knows") occur starting at III when he believes he has seen his lost P; again at V.1 when he first interrogates P ("Art [th]u my perle," 54); the "deme" group (VI) when he disagrees with her and she reprimands him for judging God.

Teaching overflows for P:

she moves from IX ("date" or limited time) to X ("more" or limitless time) to XI ("God is gret ino3e") to XII ("saf and ryght") to XIII ("perle maskeless") for half the stanza before D interrupts her.

she moves from XIV ("Jerusalem") to XV ("never the less"--which contains D's 6th stanza interrupting to beg permission to ask a question and admitting mortal imperfection ["mokke and mol"]) to XVI ("withouten mote"--or "without spot," which contains D's request "show me" [935] Jerusalem).