Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jesse M. Gellrich


Much criticism in medieval studies has focused on Chrisitan allegory and its dissemination through Middle English poetry. Using recent insights into the nature of allegory in its medieval context, this study offers a new means of understanding allegory as it appears in the work of Chaucer and the Pearl-poet. Which ideas of figurality actually informed the works of these poets? The investigation into the influence of medieval "textuality" on Chaucer and the Pearl-poet has overlooked the image of the "veil" in the Middle Ages. This study asserts that instead of being a "flat" image, the veil provides us with a palpable means of understanding the ways in which Christian sign theory treated allegory. Chapter One reviews the semiology of clothing in exegesis as it appears in the image of "the textualized body" of Christ. It suggests that the origin of the vacillation between the perceived "presence and absence" of meaning in medieval allegory exists in the different readings of this body as both the revealer and "reveiler" of truth. The paradox of the Incarnational text provided the unstable foundation of medieval theories of "textuality," both religious and secular. Chapters Two and Three focus on The Clerk's Tale and Pearl to reveal how the poets who understood language to be simultaneously pre- and post-linguistic. In the way they identified this fundamental tension within allegory, Pearl and The Clerk's Tale reveal through the semiology of clothing an appreciation for and keen awareness of the "problem" of allegory. The Pearl-poet questions the possibility of "uncovering" the spiritual res of allegory by demonstrating the endless reflexivity of the allegorical sign in the image of the Pearl-maiden. In The Clerk's Tale, Griselda's relationship to her garments asks us to reevaluate her role as the tale's unchanging sentence. The Clerk's Tale exposes how language creates and changes the reality it represents. Chaucer's poetics critique the quest for an absolute and divinely inspired correspondence between language and truth and find it lacking.