Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Sir Percivale

The Temptation of Sir Percival
by Arthur Hacker
Oil on canvas, 132.1 x 157.5 cm
Collection: Leeds Museums and Galleries

Sir Percivale

Real Name: Peredyr Arueu Dur, King of Ebrauc (Welsh-Peredyr, Latin-Peredurus, English-Percival)

Identity/Class: Normal human, perhaps enhanced by magic/divine empowerment.

Occupation: Knight

Affiliations: Knights of the Round Table, Grail Knights

Enemies: The Proud Knight of the Moor (various proper names, Orilus in Wolfram, whom he is later reconciled with); the King of Castle Mortal (the man on whom Percival must avenge either the Grail King's death or his father's death and who kills himself rather than deal with Percival's wrath)

Known Relatives: Gwrgi (twin brother), Blanchefleur (wife), Black Knight (son)

Aliases: Parzival, Percivale, Perceval (spelling variants of his name); Steel Arms

Base of Operations: Cartomek, c.6th century A.D. or perhaps Ebruac;
formerly Camelot

First Appearance: c.510-580 

                                        Sir Percival by George Frederick Watts

Percivale was raised by his mother in ignorance of arms and courtesy. Percivale's natural prowess, however, led him to Arthur's court where he immediately set off in pursuit of a knight who had offended Guinevere.

Percivale is the Grail knight or one of the Grail knights in numerous medieval and modern stories of the Grail quest. Percivale first appears in Chrétien de Troyes's unfinished Percivale or Conte del Graal (c.1190). The incomplete story prompted a series of "continuations," in the third of which (c. 1230), by an author named Manessier, Percivale achieves the Grail. (An analogue to Chrétien's tale is found in the thirteenth-century Welsh romance Peredur.)

Chrétien's story was also the inspiration for one of the greatest romances of the Middle Ages, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (c. 1200-1210). As in Chrétien's story, Wolfram's Parzival is initially naive and foolish, having been sheltered from the dangers of the chivalric world by his mother. In both versions Percivale/Parzival is the guest of the wounded Fisher King (called Anfortas by Wolfram but unnamed by Chrétien) at whose castle he witnesses the Grail procession and fails to ask--because he has been advised of the impoliteness of asking too many questions--the significance of what he sees and, in Wolfram's romance, what causes Anfortas's pain. This failure is calamitous because asking the question would have cured the king.

Other medieval versions of the story of Percivale can be found in the French texts known as the Didot-Percivale and Perlesvaus (also called The High Book of the Grail or Le Haut Livre du Graal). Percivale is the central character in the fourteenth-century Middle English romance Sir Percivale of Galles which is apparently based on Chrétien's tale but which omits the Grail motif entirely. Percivale is one of three Grail knights in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the others being Galahad and Bors. Percivale functions as the narrator of the dramatic monologue which comprises most of Tennyson's Idyll "The Holy Grail." In this idyll, much of what Percivale tells focuses on Galahad as the central Grail knight. Richard Wagner, drawing his inspiration primarily from Wolfram von Eschenbach though greatly simplifying Wolfram's plot, wrote the opera Parsifal in 1882.

As in the medieval stories, Parsifal is presented initially as a fool, but is pure enough to heal the wounded Anfortas and to become himself the keeper of the Grail. Among the twentieth century works to deal with Percivale/Parsifal are the poem "Parsifal" by Arthur Symons, several of Charles Williams's Arthurian poems, Robert Trevelyan's The Birth of Parsival (1905) and The New Parsifal: An Operatic Fable (1914), and the novels Percival and the Presence of God (1978) by Jim Hunter, Parsifal (1988) by Peter Vansittart, and Richard Monaco's tetralogy (containing Parsival [1977], The Grail War [1979], The Final Quest [1980], and Blood and Dreams [1985]). One of the most interesting Arthurian films is Eric Rohmer's Percivale le Gallois (1978), a fairly faithful rendition of Chrétien's Conte del Graal. The story of Percivale is recast in a modern setting in the film The Fisher King (1990).