St. Erkenwald: Narrative and Narrative Artistry

  • Marie Borroff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This essay grew out of a study of narrative artistry in the four poems of the so-called Gawain-group and a fifth poem entitled St. Erkenwald that I undertook with the aim of reconsidering the question of common authorship. The four poems are found side by-side in a single manuscript copied toward the end of the fourteenth century; the fifth is extant in a different manuscript, approximately the same in dialect provenience but about seventy-five years later in date. Ever since St. Erkenwald was first published in 1881, there have been scholars who have attributed it, on stylistic grounds, to the Gawain-poet.1 But this opinion, whose validity in any case cannot be proven, has not been universally shared. In 1965, Larry D. Benson published an essay designed to dissociate the Gawain-poet from St. Erkenwald once and for all, and since then his negative verdict has prevailed, if only by default.2 The poem has, however, continued to command interest in its own right. Since the publication of Benson’s article, it has been edited twice, and it has appeared in at least two widely distributed anthologies of Middle English literature.3 Ruth Morse, whose edition appeared in 1975, said of it that it deserved to be considered “as&of interest in its own right, rather than neglected as a dubious appendage to the brilliant poems usually attributed to the Gawain-poet.” I hope the study that follows will bear out


Relative Clause Christian Doctrine Medieval Literature Holy Ghost Common Authorship 
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  1. 2.
    Larry D. Benson, “The Authorship of St. Erkenwald,” republished in Contradictions: From Beowulf to Chaucer, ed. Theodore M. Andersson and Stephen A. Barney (Aldershot, UK, and Brookfield, VT: Scolar Press, 1995), pp. 141–54.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    William A. Quinn, “The Psychology of St. Erkenwald,” Medium Ævum 53 (1984): 180–93.Google Scholar

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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Marie Borroff

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