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The Gawain-Poet and the Fourteenth-Century English Anticlerical Tradition

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In this fresh reading of the Gawain-poet's Middle English works (Cleanness, Patience, Pearl, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), Ethan Campbell argues that a central feature of their moral rhetoric is anticlerical critique. Written in an era when clerical corruption was a key concern for polemicists such as Richard FitzRalph and John Wyclif, as well as satirical poets such as John Gower, William Langland, and Geoffrey Chaucer, the Gawain poems feature an explicit attack on hypocritical priests in the opening lines of Cleanness as well as more subtle critiques embedded within depictions of flawed priest-like characters like the biblical prophet Jonah and the Green Knight, who grants a problematic absolution to Sir Gawain.

Through a close reading of each poem with an eye toward congruencies with the poet's contemporaries, Campbell situates the Gawain-poet's works within the rich and varied textual environment of fourteenth-century English anticlericalism.

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