Student Question

Based on the response of others at Arthur's court to Perceval, how successful will he be as a knight?

"Perceval" from Bulfinch's Mythology:

Just then, behold, Perceval entered the hall upon the bony, piebald horse, with his uncouth trappings. In the center of the hall stood Kay the Seneschal.

"Tell me, tall man," said Perceval, "is that Arthur yonder?"

"What wouldst thou with Arthur?" asked Kay. "My mother told me to go to Arthur and receive knighthood from him."

"By my faith," said he, "thou are all too meanly equipped with horse and with arms." Then all the household began to jeer and laugh at him. Bit there was a cartain damsel who had been a whole year at Arthur's court, and had never been known to smile. And the king's fool had said that this damsel would not smile till she had seen him who would be the flower of chivalry. Now this damsel came up to Perceval and told him, smiling, that if he lived he would be one of the bravest and best of knights.

"Truly," said Kay, "thou art ill taught to remain a year at Arthur;s court, with choice of society, ans smile on no one, and noe before the face of Arrthurs and all his knights to call such a man as this the flower of knighthood"; and he gave her a box on the ear, that she fell senseless to the ground.

Expert Answers

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In most Arthurian accounts, knights have certain qualifications that allow for them to be successful in their endeavors.  While some of them are qualitative, others are more quantitative.  In the account, the first issue Kay the Seneschal has with Perceval is that he does not "look" like a knight.  He does not ride a horse worthy of a knight and he carries shoddy weapons, both of which bring on him the ridicule of those in attendance at Arthur's court.  While this gives the reader an assessment of how the knights of Arthur's court perceive the chance of Perceval's success at court, it is often not a good indicator of his actual success.

The fool and the damsel, however, see something more qualitative in Perceval, and they surmise that his success will depend on it.  From their assessment, the reader can assume that Perceval will be a very successful knight.  Generally, the  most humble and most apparently unknightly of knights turns out to be the one most worthy of the title.  The fact Perceval is so quickly dismissed by the other knights serves as the best indicator of his success.

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