The Quest of the Holy Grail Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Among prose and poetry dedicated to the Grail, three distinct explanations for the Grail are provided: One work indicates that the Grail was the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, one proposes that it was only used by Joseph of Arimathea to gather Jesus’ blood, and the third is a combination of the two. Furthermore, the means by which the Grail is transferred from hand to hand, ultimately to Perceval, changes from account to account. This may well be a result of the antiquity of the stories, but the fact that the subject of the Holy Grail is found in only the most recent of Arthurian texts indicates yet another addition to the Christianization of King Arthur. The first historical references to King Arthur can be dated as far back as 548; the anonymously written Quest of the Holy Grail dates only as far back as c. 1300, long after the Christianization of Britain by Augustine. By this time, the great institutions of learning, primarily Cambridge, Oxford, and the University of Paris, were well established. This allowed scholars and writers better access to libraries and to their predecessors, such as Robert de Boron. Boron’s poems were the primary sources for the anonymous poet of The Quest of the Holy Grail.

The poem displays an exaggerated and nostalgic conception of chivalry. The late Middle Ages, during which The Quest of the Holy Grail was written, saw little chivalry, few knights in armor, and even fewer heroes; thus the writers of the day looked to the past for great heroes. To these people, only Jesus himself, or a saint, could be a truly pure man. King Arthur had already been elevated to immortality over the centuries, so by logical extension his knights, among them Sir Perceval, himself added to the story by the French, became immortal heroes. According to this version, however, Perceval does not begin his...

(The entire section is 763 words.)