Postprint version. Published in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Volume 106, October 1, 2007, pages 428-446.
From Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Copyright © 2007 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press. This article, in whole or in part, may not be reprinted, posted on another website, photocopied or distributed without the written permission from the copyright holder. The definitive version is available at http://jegp.press.illinois.edu/106.4/arner.html.
Christ III’s representation of the rewards offered to the blessed in Heaven raises this question: Why would anyone offered the opportunity to enjoy the beatific vision turn his gaze toward the suffering of the damned in Hell? The poem’s emphasis on vision has conventionally been interpreted as indicating its didactic purpose of effecting repentance in the reader. Critics such as Frederick Biggs, Thomas D. Hill, and, most recently, Sachi Shimomura have connected the poem to standard theological interpretations of the Last Judgment and the penitential tradition.1 However, the unique, and perhaps troubling, issue of how and why the blessed choose to direct their gaze remains an interpretive problem.2 In this essay, we argue that Christ III’s representation of the blessed gazing upon the damned forwards its penitential aims by offering the gaze as voyeuristic pleasure and promising the reader that such pleasure, experienced through reading, will continue in heaven. The poet emphasizes scopophilic pleasure as part of a rhetorical strategy that makes the conception of heavenly bliss immediately available to readers of the poem.
English Language and Literature